This fictional autobiography set in an alternate 20th Century chronicles one woman's unusual life, including the price she pays to survive and the cost her choices hold for the society she is trying to save.
... a beautiful example of how just the right amount of ambiguity can pull the reader into engaging more completely with the story ... there is the consistency provided by some beautiful writing—not flowery, straightforward, but still containing some sentences that just felt like simple perfection ... Deceptively deep simplicity—backed by moments of horror both existential and plausible—is a trademark of both Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson; working together seems to bring out the very best in both of them ... thought-provoking, more than a little melancholy, and ultimately one of the most intriguing novels I’ve read this year. What a quietly wonderful book.
... all apocalypse and debris, bare shambles coagulating into a familiar dystopian world order ... The largely unreliable narrative and...authorial intrusions makes You Feel It Just Below the Ribs a frightening novel that slowly induces a paranoia that leaves an itch under the skin ... This sort of storytelling—where exposition is boiled down to build suspense, where the academic character and the reader are both detectives—is a literary postmodernist fascination ... The novel forces a reconsideration of what an alternative history is and what it is for ... You Feel It Just Below the Ribs begins slowly, building anticipation and thrills, and is powerful even as it tapers off into a predictable ending. It can be read as multiple narratives, a literary choose-your-own-adventure: as a meditation on the nature of alternate histories, as a provocative account of the horrors linked to psychiatry, as a character study of a woman who has made terrible choices, even as a narrative about the ethical and political questions to consider as part of scientific research. It’s skeptical heart, however, throbs, pushing the reader to decide whom they usually trust.
At times, it’s a bit meandering. The pacing is all over the place, and there’s often a lack of urgency. But at its heart, it’s an emotional, thought-provoking reflection on the fragility of memory and the importance of trying to do the right thing ... as a piece of fiction meant to stand on its own, it ends up being all build-up with no payoff ... When viewed as a fictional memoir, the novel largely succeeds at everything it’s trying to do. Cranor and Matthewson paint a deliciously nuanced, complicated picture of Dr. Gregory, exploring all of her positives and negatives equally. And much of the insight that comes from her reflection on her past...is both haunting and beautifully realized. But on the other hand, when viewed as the quasi-political thriller it seems to want to be, the novel doesn’t stick the landing and fails to pay off much of what it’s set up. Still, it’s a deeply enjoyable, unique read ... It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t entirely work, but I still enjoyed it a lot.