Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach BoyMike Love & James S. Hirsch
MixedThe New York Times...[a] frequently bilious book ... Mr. Love’s book ranks high in gossip and readability, even if it’s stuffed with tedious chart positions for Beach Boys records ... bragging is something he knows a lot about. And you’ll find a lot of it in these pages ... more than a half-century’s worth of inside information about the Beach Boys, who were all the rage until they were ancient history, has undeniable appeal, especially from a new perspective.
Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists AgencyJames Andres Miller
PanThe New York TimesRight from the get-go, there are two enormous things wrong with it. The first is 'oral history': Sometimes this means a seamless narrative pieced together from the words of many speakers, but not here. In Powerhouse, it means a 700-page string of skips, jumps, tangents and otherwise dizzying non sequiturs. The second is that Mr. Miller is this book’s sole author, which means he’s missing his secret sauce ... by and large this book is so full of fawning that even the gossip is hard to find.
Bright Precious DaysJay McInerney
PositiveThe New York Times...it’s never quite clear how detached [McInerney] is when he starts inhabiting Russell’s memory or recapitulating a pretentious young man’s hero-worshiping fatuousness ... revives the memory of Tom Wolfe’s social X-rays. (As with vintage Wolfe, when he’s writing about elite New Yorkers’ fetishes he knows whereof he speaks) ... Russell is both more comfortable with Corrine and more comfortable with this newer, more aggressive generation. He’s ready for a fourth installment. Dear Mr. McInerney, please write one.
Truly Madly GuiltyLiane Moriarty
PanThe New York TimesIt has all the requisite trademarks of one of her hits (The Husband’s Secret, What Alice Forgot), a three-word title included. It probes some of the things she writes about best: fraught friendships, covert backbiting, stale marriages. And its format has become standard for her, with brief, maddening flashes of Whatever-It-Is that don’t gel until she’s ready to let them. All of it is formulaic by now. But it’s a shame to see her resort to the level of contrivance that this book requires. You’d have to be a very dedicated Moriarty fan to believe much of anything that happens post-crisis.
News of the WorldPaulette Jiles
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewLike [Ron] Rash, Ms. Jiles writes books that bring the natural world to life and are also agonizingly eventful ... They will learn to trust each other, though not in a hokey way; Ms. Jiles is much too good to let her book sink into sentimentality ... a narrow but exquisite book about the joys of freedom; the discovery of unexpected, proprietary love between two people who have never experienced anything like it; pure adventure in the wilds of an untamed Texas; and the reconciling of vastly different cultures. That’s a lot to pack into a short (213 pages), vigorous volume, but Ms. Jiles is capable of saying a lot in few words.
Invincible SummerAlice Adams
PositiveThe New York TimesMs. Adams has managed to combine a hoary premise, a familiar plot, readable to iffy prose and pigeonhole-ready characters and spin their story into a heart tugger with seemingly honest appeal. This amazing feat doesn’t rival those of the Large Hadron Collider, which plays a cameo role in Invincible Summer. But it’s close ... Invincible Summer, which takes its title from an uncharacteristically upbeat Camus quotation, means to focus on bigger, less fluffy things: moving from a sheltered academic life to an unprotected one, facing increasingly consequential problems, making serious decisions and, inevitably, serious mistakes. It also takes some notice of the world around its self-involved foursome ... Ms. Adams captures the way that freedom begins to erode as each character defines himself or herself more clearly. As the lines that separate them are drawn, the friendships become more competitive and awkward ... Ms. Adams’s story develops an increasing power that can be created only incrementally. And by the novel’s end, regardless of whether you buy the plot’s string of remarkable coincidences, its message of friendship, love and loyalty hits home.
End of WatchStephen King
RaveThe New York TimesThere is perfect symmetry to the way Stephen King aligns the opening of End of Watch, the smashing final installment of his trilogy, with that of its first installment ... when [King] writes here about pain, he does it with astounding honesty ... This is his best book since the vastly ambitious Under the Dome (2009), and it's part of a newly incisive, reality-based part of his career. At some point, the phantasmagorical became less central to him than the frightening prospects to be found in the real world. And he uses his ever-powerful intimacy with readers to convey the damage life can wreak.
Before the FallNoah Hawley
RaveThe New York TimesThis is one of the year’s best suspense novels, a mesmerizing, surprise-jammed mystery that works purely on its own, character-driven terms ... Mr. Hawley does a beautiful job of turning his book into an extended tease, with separate chapters about each passenger and revelations about why each could have been a target.
The Second Life of Nick MasonSteve Hamilton
RaveThe New York TimesMr. Hamilton gives this book a superb set of road maps, one for the Chicago Nick knows so well, another for the inner workings of Nick’s mind. Because Nick is a first-time character faced with a terrible moral dilemma, his thoughts need to be grippingly complex, and they are ... Though he flirts with some obvious clichés here, Mr. Hamilton uses them to his advantage. After all, chases and club scenes and daughter-loving dads wouldn’t be so popular if they didn’t work. And The Second Life of Nick Mason kicks off this new phase of Mr. Hamilton’s career at full gallop. It’s a tight, gripping book about a man hellbent on reinventing himself against long odds. By a writer who knows whereof he speaks.
The FiremanJoe Hill
MixedThe New York TimesThe Fireman is big. It creates an alluringly weird world. It has a highly developed code of honor, not to mention an ever-surprising lineup of surreal tricks its characters can pull. And it thrives on fear, but has hope at heart... if Mr. Hill’s overarching plot has its problems, he remains a terrifically ingratiating writer when it comes to ambience and spirit.
A Little LifeHanya Yanagihara
MixedThe New York Times[A Little Life is] a big, emotional, trauma-packed read with a voluptuous prose style that wavers between the exquisite and the overdone ... Ms. Yanagihara’s prose is always ripe with modifiers, as when the book conjures rats that go 'squeaking plumply underfoot'; is it possible for rats to squeak skinnily? A lot of this 720-page book is devoted to torrentially long and powerful descriptions, and without question, they pack a lot of power. But her mixing of metaphors makes for a mess ... A Little Life eventually develops a relentless downhill trajectory. It might have had even more impact with fewer wild beasts prowling through fewer pages. But Ms. Yanagihara is still capable of introducing great shock value into her story to override its predictability.
Everybody's FoolRichard Russo
PositiveThe New York TimesConsider Everybody’s Fool a delightful return to form...It’s fitting that this book’s eye-catching cover depicts a dog with a lot of personality — and some signage discreetly hiding its nether parts. That dog represents a real character who’s just as rascally and perverse as the book’s humans. The dog is just better at expressing himself. Mr. Russo’s people prefer to sideswipe, wisecrack, sneak, scheme and talk to figments of their imaginations. It’s a joy to spend time with any of them, two-legged or four.
Heat and LightJennifer Haigh
RaveThe New York TimesMs. Haigh is an expertly nuanced storyteller long overdue for major attention. Her work is gripping, real and totally immersive, akin to that of writers as different as Richard Price, Richard Ford and Richard Russo. They are part of the stellar literary lineup of her admirers. With this book, she moves one big step closer to being in their league.
Rogue LawyerJohn Grisham
MixedThe New York TimesRogue Lawyer is one of [Grisham's] better recent books, partly because of the format: It’s broken up into short episodes that interlock only as the plot reaches its final stages ... Rogue Lawyer ushers in Rudd as a potential series star for Mr. Grisham. The man has a son he loves but barely knows; an ex-wife who left him for another woman; a shockingly good way of assailing important targets, like badly written laws; and a few wild-guy qualities that are balanced by his love of golf. Roguewise, he’s right up there with Robin Hood.
PanThe New York TimesIt’s hard to find much escapist fun in a book about a woman whose main attributes are deadly sins. Greed, lust, envy, pride and wrath — she’s got five of them covered, and perhaps even a little gluttony, if you count all the times Ms. Hilton lovingly describes the delicacies that slide down her heroine’s gullet. This is meant to make Judith a creature of insatiable appetites, which is meant to be alluring, especially since she keeps herself so saleably slim...But the hot stuff grows repetitive very quickly. And it begins to feel obligatory. Excitable as Judith is, she has a limited imagination, and she vents it at regularly timed intervals. By the time Maestra reaches its suspenseful conclusion — three little words, 'to be continued' — she seems to be running out of positions. With two books to go.
The NestCynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
PositiveThe New York TimesThe Nest doesn’t need much in the way of set dressing. It just has the author’s excellent antennas for describing the New York area and that evergreen fuel for food fights: an inheritance meant to be divided among adult children. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney lived in New York for many years before relocating to Los Angeles. Her familiarity with both cities animates The Nest, about the four dysfunctional (what did you expect?) Plumb siblings and their fiscal expectations.
We Love You Charlie FreemanKaitlyn Greenidge
RaveThe New York TimesMs. Greenidge has charted an ambitious course for a book that begins so mock-innocently. And she lets the suspicion and outrage mount as the Freemans’ true situation unfolds. This author is also a historian, and she makes the 1929' on Toneybee plaque tell another, equally gripping story that strongly parallels the Freemans’ 1990 experience. A question that hovers over this book is whether the Freemans will learn from past horrors or become so dysfunctional that they merely relive them.
The TrespasserTana French
RaveThe New York Times...a tour de force ... The Trespasser is brisk but not breathless. It would be a pity if Ms. French raced through such beautifully conceived and executed material ... [French] has become required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting.
At the Existentialist CaféSarah Bakewell
RaveThe New York TimesAt the Existentialist Café is a bracingly fresh look at once-antiquated ideas and the milieu in which they flourished. Ms. Bakewell’s approach is enticing and unusual: She is not an omniscient author acting as critic, biographer or tour guide. As someone who came back to this material by rereading it later in life, she has made her responses part of the story.
West of Eden: An American PlaceJean Stein
PanThe New York TimesDespite its provenance, West of Eden is strangely unfocused, especially when compared with Ms. Stein’s indelible Edie ... [it] includes only a terse set of biographical notes, which is an extreme annoyance; it needed the full biographies, genealogical charts and abundant illustrations that were so necessary to Edie.”
Boys in the TreesCarly Simon
PanThe New York TimesThis book’s style recalls that of her songs: a little precious, a little redundant, a little too much.
The YidPaul Goldberg
PositiveThe New York TimesMr. Goldberg has written a book that revolves about Stalin’s final blow against the country’s remaining Jews. There is evidence for this, but The Yid is a novel, not a heavily researched historical document. More important, Mr. Goldberg comes up with a team of Yiddish-speaking jokester-superheroes who are at the heart of his story, and who make it their mission to avenge countless acts of anti-Semitism, both real and anticipated.
Dear Mr. YouMary Louise Parker
RaveThe New York TimesThe book is written in a smart, beguiling voice that is inextricably entwined with qualities that Ms. Parker radiates as an actress. There’s as much flintiness as reckless charm. Flirtation and mischief are big parts of her arsenal. So is the honest soul-searching that gives this slight-looking book much more heft than might be expected.
When Breath Becomes AirPaul Kalanithi
RaveThe New York TimesPart of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him — passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die — so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated.
Valiant AmbitionNathaniel Philbrick
PanThe New York TimesThe title of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition says everything about it, because it says nothing...from the book’s outset, it’s clear that Mr. Philbrick did not approach this project with a clear thesis. He approached it with a mandate, a methodology, a book contract and a couple of big names to connect. At least that’s how Valiant Ambition reads.
The WhistlerJohn Grisham
PositiveThe New York TImes...the Grisham formula hasn’t gotten old. Or older. When he’s on his game, as he is with his latest, The Whistler, it really works ... Despite the bits of leaden language, Lacy does manage to come to life on the page. The Whistler also has a strong and frightening sense of place, painting part of the Panhandle as a lawless region where terrible things might happen, and do. And Mr. Grisham deserves credit for dependability: He is at heart an optimist who believes that wrongs can be ferreted out and righted. We could use a little of that these days.
Fates and FuriesLauren Groff
MixedThe New York TimesWhenever Fates and Furies has a dark undercurrent to trumpet, it announces its insights before readers can make their own discoveries. In this much more manipulative and even conventional book, the shock value of the main characters’ secrets wipes out too much of the sublime subtlety and originality that distinguish Ms. Groff at her best. Ms. Groff’s prose can be gorgeous, especially with the erotic heat she brings to it here. It can also be florid and odd...But she’s still a writer whose books (which also include the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds) are too exotic and unusual to be missed, and whose brief career has been one of immense promise.
The CrossingMichael Connelly
MixedThe New York TimesThe best Connelly books take on terrific momentum in their final chapters, but The Crossing isn’t at that level.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye (A Harry Bosch Novel)Michael Connelly
PositiveThe New York TimesEach of these books is as memorable for its locations as it is for narrative or even denouement, and The Wrong Side of Goodbye really takes Harry traveling. ... All of it is etched in indelible detail and with great care. The people of The Wrong Side of Goodbye may not be with you by the next time Harry comes around. But the settings will be etched into the Bosch road map of California life.
Today Will be DifferentMaria Semple
PositiveThe New York TimesToday Will Be Different, can be outrageously funny. But it cuts closer to the bone than Bernadette did, and its main character’s problems feel more real. This time Ms. Semple delivers less satire and more soul ... Speed bumps notwithstanding, Ms. Semple is an immensely appealing writer, and there’s something universal in her heroine’s efforts to get a handle on a life spinning out of control ... And Ms. Semple’s descriptions of Seattle continue to be priceless.
Razor GirlCarl Hiaasen
RaveThe New York TimesCarl Hiaasen’s irresistible Razor Girl meets his usual sky-high standards for elegance, craziness and mike-drop humor. But this election-year novel is exceptionally timely, too ... [a] wonderfully overstocked book ... Finally, Mr. Hiaasen’s dialogue is too good to go unmentioned.
Night SchoolLee Child
PositiveThe New York Times...while it’s surprising to find him as part of a group in this book, the changeup works. Unlike most Reacher books, which start at breathless velocity and then wind up having to work through huge, empty action scenes later, this one gets better as it goes along. Its complexity pays off with a better than usual MacGuffin and real teamwork against a global enemy ... the choices he’s made for Night School are smart ones.
American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping Crimes and Trial of Patty HearstJeffrey Toobin
PositiveThe New York TimesMr. Toobin has used the same winning formula of delving deeply into an American crime story that had tremendous notoriety in its day and retelling it with new resonance ... The book’s legal pièce de résistance is how Mr. Bailey bungled Ms. Hearst’s defense in charges of robbing the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, the first of several crimes for which she was accused.
The Daily Show (The Book)Chris Smith & Jon Stewart
MixedThe New York Times...this book seeks a serious understanding of everything about him, especially the thinking that shaped the show. But Mr. Smith lets hero worship and repetition slow the book’s momentum. And doses of snark from embittered ex-staffers sound like exactly what they are ... He omits transcript material that’s important to the show’s history...It would have been worth the extra space to remind readers what Mr. Stewart sounds like when he’s in a cold fury ... Mr. Smith carefully follows the show’s arc to the start of the war in Iraq and the video-clip milestone that had the show staging Bush vs. Bush debates comparing Gov. George W. Bush’s statements about Iraq with those of President George W. Bush.
Victoria: The QueenJulia Baird
PositiveThe New York TimesWhen Ms. Baird goes after those myths, her alternative versions are exhilarating ... This book shows how Victoria’s girlish naughtiness turned into a regal, willful, complex nature that other biographers have tended to simplify...Ms. Baird brings a strong feminist awareness to the ways in which Victoria’s letters, edited by two men, have been censored to excise the full range of her personality, and also to the subordinate role any wife was expected to assume when Victoria was a young bride ... If there’s one thing missing from the book, it’s Ms. Baird’s thoughts on why Victoria let herself become submissive to Albert for so long, but perhaps the answers to that are too obviously linked to the loss of a father so early in life.
The DryJane Harper
RaveThe New York Times[Harper] has jampacked her swift debut thriller with sneaky moves that the reader has to track with care ... Ms. Harper throws out so many teasing possibilities that it’s hard to believe this is her first novel ... The Dry is a breathless page-turner, driven by the many revelations Ms. Harper dreams up for Falk during his visit ... The dryness that gives the book its eerie title looms large in the novel’s finale, when certain kinds of weapons become even more terrible than those used to butcher the Hadlers. And a book with a secret on every page now has threats blooming everywhere, too. The Dry has caught the attention of Reese Witherspoon, who has a solid track record for spotting novels with strong movie potential. But Ms. Harper has made her own major mark long before any film version comes along.
The Girl BeforeJP Delaney
MixedThe New York TimesThe Girl Before generates a fast pace with frequent cuts between chapters labeled 'Then: Emma' and 'Now: Jane.' And it milks suspense from matching scenes in which Emma and Jane do exactly the same things with Edward, who consciously sets up these parallels. That’s the good news. The downside is the author’s clumsy trickery. No spoilers here, but the novel’s denouement is improbable enough to have flown in from outer space ... The author, clearly writing with commercial success in mind, has used as many other familiar genre ploys as the book can hold ... Edward is very rich in ways that allow the book to indulge in both shelter and merchandise porn ... The book has more trouble bringing its women to life. We know about their past problems, their secrets and their reactions to Edward. But they never really emerge as strong characters ... Mr. Delaney intersperses ethics questions on stand-alone pages throughout the book. A fairly tame sample: 'You have a choice between saving Michelangelo’s statue of David or a starving street child. Which do you choose?' The unnerving ghoulishness of these questions hovers over the book, and the single most ingenious touch is that we’re not provided either woman’s answers.
Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of JoyElizabeth Winder
PanThe New York TimesRarely has a book about Marilyn Monroe been more maddening than Elizabeth Winder’s Marilyn in Manhattan...Winder has sloppily crafted an answer to suit her own question ... Most of her anecdotes are either unattributed or ascribed to Kindle editions of recent books, with no page numbers given. Movie magazines from the 1950s are taken seriously ... The bulk of what’s here is a strangely culled, often repetitive set of anecdotes from only a few easily obtainable books that most Marilyn fans probably know about ... [all] hot air and specious detail.
Truevine: Two Brothers a Kidnapping and a Mother's QuestBeth Macy
PositiveThe New York Times...[an] expert work of nonfiction ... Its story has gaps that are impossible to fill, though that is part of what makes the book so lifelike ... Though Truevine can’t get into their heads, it does a fine job of describing what their circus companions were like and how lost the brothers must have felt once stranded back home in Virginia.
Kafka on the ShoreHaruki Murakami
MixedThe New York TimesKafka on the Shore is as layered and convoluted as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is still the author's most drop-dead feat of pyrotechnics. But the new book is more ambitious in ways that render it more vague … The book's only conventional aspect is its uninspired cross-cutting format. This novel makes pendulum swings between the story of how Kafka runs away from home, and how good-hearted old Nakata, the cat whisperer, embarks on a peculiar quest. Kafka and Nakata are not acquainted, but their lives overlap in piquant, spooky ways … Kafka on the Shore specializes in overlapping metaphors and symbols that may or may not have any true connection...It's clear that they are powerful but less clear that they are deep.
All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr
RaveThe New York TimesThe heroine is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, whose loving father, a talented locksmith, goes to extraordinary lengths to help her compensate for the loss of her eyesight...Mr. Doerr’s acutely sensory style captures the extreme perceptiveness Marie-Laure has developed by the time World War II begins. Much of the story unfolds during the war, although it jumps back and forth. The book opens in August 1944, two months after D-Day, with the sound of things falling from the sky and rattling against windows. Marie-Laure knows these are leaflets. She can smell the fresh ink … Werner’s experience at the school is only one of the many trials through which Mr. Doerr puts his characters in this surprisingly fresh and enveloping book...Mr. Doerr’s nuanced approach concentrates on the choices his characters make and on the souls that have been lost, both living and dead.
Big Little LiesLiane Moriarty
PositiveThe New York TimesMs. Moriarty keeps her books long and gossipy, primarily by stalling. She introduces several sets of major characters, cuts back and forth among them, and scatters the narrative with foreshadowing about the terrible, terrible night … Ms. Moriarty writes all this in an easy, girlfriendly style that only occasionally lands with a thud…a low-level bitchiness thrums throughout the narrative, becoming one of its indispensable pleasures. The witnesses’ descriptions of whatever happened are usually comically distorted, as in a game of telephone, so that everyone’s understanding of Trivia Night is at best half-wrong … The ferocity that Ms. Moriarty brings to scenes of masculine sadism really is shocking. A seemingly fluffy book suddenly touches base with vicious reality.
Into the WaterPaula Hawkins
PanThe New York TimesIf The Girl on the Train seemed overplotted and confusing to some readers, it is a model of clarity next to this latest effort ... Her goal may be to build suspense, but all she achieves is confusion. Into the Water is jam-packed with minor characters and stories that go nowhere ... Hawkins does not so much introduce these characters as throw them at the reader in rapid succession. There’s no time to process who’s who, and not much detail about any of them.
Since We FellDennis Lehane
PositiveThe New York TimesSuffice it to say that this second part of Since We Fell is sharply different from the first. Instead, it’s packed with signs that Lehane sold this story to the movies, which he did, in 2015, and that he loves the Hitchcock classics that prey on mistrust. Suddenly, he begins delivering nonstop suspense only loosely rooted in Rachel’s story and its foundations ... Rachel works extremely well as the focus of the book. Lehane has always written wrenching female characters into his stories, and he has no trouble giving center stage to one ... Her options narrow as the book becomes more crime-centric and throws her into life-or-death situations rather than contemplative ones. But she’s as much of a pragmatist as anyone Lehane ever dreamed up.
Wolf HallHilary Mantel
PositiveThe New York TimesMs. Mantel takes an extremely contemporary approach to Cromwell by appreciating his toughness, his keen political instincts, his financial acumen and his intimate knowledge of the workings of power. Almost unimaginable, in the midst of Henry’s impetuousness, Anne’s ambition and More’s self-righteous condescension, Cromwell emerges as the most sympathetic member of the wolf pack that populates Wolf Hall … Her book’s main characters are scorchingly well rendered. And their sharp-clawed machinations are presented with nonstop verve in a book that can compress a wealth of incisiveness into a very few well-chosen words … Deft and diabolical as they are, Ms. Mantel’s slyly malicious turns of phrase would count for little more than banter if they could not succinctly capture the important struggles that have set her characters to talking. But she is able to place Cromwell on plausibly familiar terms with royalty and on a fair moral footing with More, that paragon of self-sacrifice.
A Visit from the Goon SquadJennifer Egan
RaveThe New York TimesMs. Egan’s vision is mostly dystopian, but what makes it most memorable is the eccentricity. She imagines that the aftermath of 15 years of war have led to a baby boom. And technology has eagerly leapt to accommodate a new demographic group: gadget-loving children. Pity the poor rock stars who find themselves at the mercy of toddlers who have purchasing power. Ms. Egan slyly turns one Goon Squad recurring character into one of those stars.
Gone GirlGillian Flynn
RaveThe New York TimesIt almost requires a game board to show how Nick and Amy move through this book … the game Ms. Flynn has in mind is a two-sided contest in which Nick and Amy tell conflicting stories … Like many a less clever unreliable narrator, Nick likes lies of omission. The reader has to figure this out very gradually, because Ms. Flynn is impressively cagey about which details she chooses to withhold … Gone Girl is Ms. Flynn’s dazzling breakthrough. It is wily, mercurial, subtly layered and populated by characters so well imagined that they’re hard to part with — even if, as in Amy’s case, they are already departed.
The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins
PositiveThe New York TimesThe Girl on the Train has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since Gone Girl...Ms. Hawkins’s story has three women to narrate it. But Rachel, the main one, hits a new high in unreliability … Ms. Hawkins keeps all these fibs, threats and innuendoes swirling through her book, to the point where they frighten and undermine each of her characters. None of them really know which of the others can be trusted or believed … One sign of this book’s ingenuity is the way key details are effortlessly omitted. And you’re not apt to miss them until the denouement, when it is pointed out that certain characters never appeared and supposed facts were never explained.
The HelpKathryn Stockett
PositiveThe New York TimesThe trouble on the pages of Skeeter’s book is nothing compared with the trouble Ms. Stockett’s real book risks getting into. Here is a debut novel by a Southern-born white author who renders black maids’ voices in thick, dated dialect … Expectations notwithstanding, it’s not the black maids who are done a disservice by this white writer; it’s the white folk … Though The Help might well have veered off into violent repression of these maids’ outspokenness, Ms. Stockett doesn’t take it there. She’s interested in the affection and intimacy buried beneath even the most seemingly impersonal household connections.
RaveThe New York TimesMs. Russell is one in a million. The proof is in Swamplandia!, a novel about alligator wrestlers, a balding brown bear named Judy Garland, a Bird Man specializing in buzzard removal, a pair of dueling Florida theme parks, rampaging melaleuca trees, a Ouija board and the dead but still flirtatious Louis Thanksgiving. Sound appealing? No, it does not. Unless Ms. Russell had you at ‘alligator wrestlers’ — not likely — you may well recoil at every noxiously fanciful item on that list...But wait. Ms. Russell knows how to use bizarre ingredients to absolutely irresistible effect … Fizzy as these ingredients may be, Swamplandia! also manages to be a suspenseful, deeply haunted book … For all its gorgeously eerie omens Swamplandia! stays rooted in the Bigtree family’s emotional reality.