Anthony Domestico is a writer and an assistant professor of literature at Purchase College, State University of New York. His book, Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press. His book reviews and essays have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, and Commonweal, among other places. Anthony can be found on Twitter @tony_domestico
PositiveThe Boston Globe...supremely gonzo and supremely good...Hystopia often reads, strange as it sounds, like a Jamesian investigation of knowledge, albeit one fueled by amphetamines. To live in American history, Means suggests, is to negotiate continuously between knowing and not knowing, unfolding and enfolding.
Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but HereAngela Palm
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorAll of this is well done, though the story – a writer leaving home and finding herself as a writer – is also well worn. What differentiates Riverine, though, is two-fold. First, Palm is a particularly good observer of class...The second distinctive quality is Palm’s description of her relationship with Corey ... Unfortunately, Palm’s relationship with Corey drops away for long stretches, and the pages devoted to Palm’s struggles as a 20-something in Indianapolis and her decision to become a writer in Vermont drag considerably.
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead
RaveThe Boston Globe...Whitehead gives us a grave and fully realized masterpiece, a weird blend of history and fantasy that will have critics rightfully making comparisons to Toni Morrison and Gabriel García-Márquez... Lovely and rare, dark and imaginative, The Underground Railroad’ is Whitehead’s best work and an important American novel.
The Hatred of PoetryBen Lerner
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] sharp, learned, and thrilling new book ... Lerner convincingly argues that the failures of individual poems – of all individual poems – also serve as the grounds for celebration. We only come to sense poetic perfection, Lerner argues, by measuring how far actual poems fall short ... Lerner is a fine critic, with a lucid style and quicksilver mind ... But perhaps most remarkable is just how entertaining, how witty and passionate and funny, The Hatred of Poetry is. The book is polemical, no doubt, but reading it is less like overhearing a professor’s lecture than like listening to a professor entertain a crowd of students over pints after class.
The AbundanceAnnie Dillard
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWhat a gift Annie Dillard’s The Abundance is. Over her 40-year career, Dillard has proven herself one of America’s most accomplished stylists and one of its most mesmerizing sensibilities. Her natural descriptions equal those of Thoreau, and her soul is as theological as Marilynne Robinson’s.
Forty RoomsOlga Grushin
MixedThe Boston GlobeThis is a flawed book. The novel’s structure, in moving from one moment and room to another without connective tissue, makes several decisions seem unmotivated. Grushin’s dialogue also often falls flat ... But this novel isn’t after perfection, either of life or work. Rather, it shows how life is built out of adjustment — dreams tempered and poetry transformed into prose.
The Big Green TentLudmila Ulitskaya
MixedThe Boston Globe...messily plotted yet historically textured, sometimes flatly written yet always sympathetically imagined — a patchy, vibrant mass.
Only the AnimalsCeridwen Dovey
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe collection raises serious philosophical questions, but it also exhibits, in every story, Dovey’s delight in meeting the imaginative challenge she has set herself.
The Angel of HistoryRabih Alameddine
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle...[an] excellent, lissome new novel ... While I’ve been describing the novel as a relatively straightforward narrative about poetry and loss, it also contains a fanciful (and not entirely successful) structural frame ... Alameddine intersperses Jacob’s narration with an ongoing conversation between Satan and Death...Lest this sound overly academic, let me say that Alameddine is able to make this intertextuality sexy ... The Angel of History suggests that to be alienated — from past love and from the past itself — is to open the door to memory and creation. To dwell within Jacob’s mind and to read Alameddine’s prose is to see loss, if not mastered, then at least made into lively and living art.
How to Set a Fire and WhyJesse Ball
RaveThe Boston Globe...the most remarkable achievement of this novel, is its narrative voice. It belongs to Lucia Stanton, the novel’s disaffected, Holden Caulfield-style young narrator and heroine. Lucia is a marvelous creation and the richness of her voice — its intelligence, its casual precision — is felt on the very first page ... What makes How to Set a Fire and Why so radical, though, isn’t its politics. At least within Ball’s career, the novel is radical because of how traditional — how voice- and character-driven — it all feels. (I mean that as a compliment.) To deeply inhabit a character’s perspective and voice, Ball suggests, can be its own form of rigorous experimentation.
Swing TimeZadie Smith
RaveThe Boston GlobeSmith has written Swing Time in the first person, and this choice allows for an easy confidence and grace that hasn’t quite been present in her fiction before ... As always, Smith writes sharply about race and class ... The Aimee chapters, with their occasional bits on celebrity or Western do-gooderism, are interesting but a little less deeply felt, a little less original. Those sections where Smith carefully, almost phenomenologically portrays what it’s like to be poor, brown, female, and ambitious are among the most brilliant she has written in her already brilliant career.
The NIxNathan Hill
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe novel has real strengths, especially Hill’s ability to integrate historical detail smoothly into a well-orchestrated plot. But The Nix isn’t a complete success. It’s a cliché to say that a first novel could use a good pruning, but this one really could ... The prose also is uneven. When Hill strains after metaphor, he often fails ... The Nix is a good but not great novel.
A Gambler's AnatomyJonathan Lethem
MixedThe Boston GlobeIf you love Pynchon, then you’ll find all of this amusing. If you don’t, you won’t. A Gambler’s Anatomy is at its best not when presenting us with a tiring and tiresome Pynchonesque performance but when thinking about the nature of performance itself — the points at which performance and container, mask and face, meet and merge.
A SeparationKatie Kitamura
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleKatie Kitamura’s A Separation should be added to the list of superb novels of romantic endings ... Kitamura, like Ferrante and Cusk, is interested in writerly passivity, in how the self-effacement called forth by the writer’s craft might complicate the writer’s life, especially the female writer’s life ... A Separation displays Kitamura’s stylistic control once again. The writing is lucid, cool, often muted, less prone to sentence fragments than Gone to the Forest was, more likely to bring simple clauses together into longer, rhythmic sentences. And Kitamura again creates an atmosphere of dreadful expectation ... Violence of all kinds, not just against other bodies but against other minds, remains Kitamura’s quarry. A Separation proves that few stalk such game more patiently or more powerfully.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIt’s only January, but I doubt that I’ll read a better novel this year than Rachel Cusk’s Transit. Cusk writes in a cut-glass style that is elegant, austere, and disciplined — an important word in a novel about gaining control over the self and fate. Yet this cool, balanced style is used to describe the hottest of feelings and the most destabilizing of experiences ... Faye is more of a presence in this novel than in the last. She’s still an outline, but she’s a clearer one ... At this midpoint in Cusk’s series, Faye remains in transit. But under the beautifully composed surface, the plates of Faye’s self are shifting.
The Sport of KingsC.E. Morgan
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleThe Sport of Kings marshals linguistic profligacy in order to approach reality’s extravagance. Morgan’s sentences often use a paratactic structure, linking clauses with a simple comma; long stretches read like litanies. This deeply cadenced structure, typical of the King James Bible, holds out the promise that if only one more item could be added to the list, the world might be captured in language. It is a sign of Morgan’s mastery that she almost convinces us that she can accomplish this impossible task...The Sport of Kings roils with anger and shimmers with beauty. It is a contemporary masterpiece.
White TearsHari Kunzru
RaveThe Boston Globe...what is most impressive about this truly impressive novel is how integrated these apparently disparate parts are, how White Tears reads less like a grab bag of Kunzru’s obsessions (a crucial word in this text) than a coherent, if disturbing, vision of what America has meant and continues to mean ... In leading us surrealistically toward the heart of the blues, White Tears offers a realistic, far-ranging analysis of how capitalistic accumulation depends upon exploitation and how frequently this exploitation has depended upon racial violence. This balancing of the nightmarish and the clear-eyed is superb, and White Tears is Kunzru’s best book yet.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleJulie Buntin’s excellent first novel, Marlena, emerges from two very different novelistic traditions. On the one hand, Buntin’s careful attention to place (wild, beautiful, meth-riven northern Michigan) and class (the working vs. the non-working poor) marks her as a realist in the David Means or Stuart Dybek mode ... Balanced against this class-attentive realism, though, is something very different: a wild, gorgeous evocation of the wildness gorgeousness of youth ... longing makes itself felt in the novel’s many lyrical passages, an intense shimmering that recalls Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. If Marlena has one foot in the world of Midwestern realism, then it has another in the world of visionary fiction.
Anything is PossibleElizabeth Strout
RaveThe Boston Globe...to see Strout as simply interested in regret is to ignore the simultaneous presence in her fiction of something very different: unbidden, shattering grace. Strout frequently shows us what Flannery O’Connor called 'the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace' into human lives. In these moments, a deeper knowledge of self becomes possible; radical change — from selfishness to selflessness; from bitterness to love — becomes imaginable...Anything Is Possible confirms Strout as one of our most grace-filled, and graceful, writers ... There’s a gift to be found in this simple sharing of pain. It’s the gift of grace, the place where this book finds possibility in a vale of tears.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn Augustown, characters look at place, and they see time. They look at their scarred hills and see 'the dark shadow of history': colonialism, slavery, structural racism. Yet they also look at their land and see the future, a time when justice will reign and tears will be wiped away ... Miller’s poetry provides memorable line after line: 'every language, even yours, / is a partial map of this world.' In Augustown, Miller is more interested in a good story than in obvious lyrical brilliance ... If anything maps the way to Zion, Miller suggests, it’s this continued witness to untold history, this attention to how the glimmer of the future might be seen in the past.