RaveThe New YorkerThese days, in certain corners, it’s something akin to a truism that every woman is a warrior, a badass, a queen. It is, for that reason, a profound relief to meet Hazel, the passive, hapless, magnificently abject protagonist of Alissa Nutting’s deranged new comic novel...I loved Hazel immediately, the way I love drunk women who instigate alarmingly personal conversations in bar bathrooms. She is the rare literary heroine in whose company it would be a pleasure to absolutely wreck my life ... Nutting gets enormous mileage out of the labyrinthine ways in which her characters redirect their romantic impulses. And she has a knack for placing moments of tender horror where straightforward affection might otherwise live ... There is no redemptive thesis in Made for Love whatsoever: when Hazel begins to gradually emerge from her chrysalis of pathos and male entrapment, she’s much the worse for what she’s gone through. Even so, the book is a total joyride, dizzying and surprising, like a state-fair roller coaster that makes you queasy for a moment but leaves you euphoric in the end.
Who Is Rich?Matthew Klam
RaveThe New Yorker...a gem within the canon of infidelity literature ... One of the nicest and saddest things about Who Is Rich? is the way that Klam goes all in on the pathos of feeling completely unwanted—a state that has become native to Fischer both professionally and in bed ... In the world of Who Is Rich? everything is embarrassing and beautiful. A chain of unexpected events at the conference leads to Fischer and Amy consummating their queasy first anniversary while on an excess of OxyContin...It’s such a turgid, sunlit, immensely particular encounter that it quietly proves the project shared by Klam and his protagonist—this affair is unique, it is special, it is one for the books. It’s also one of the only moments when Fischer is able to really accept and take pleasure in his diminished ambitions.
Sex and RageEve Babitz
RaveThe New YorkerOn the page, Babitz is pure pleasure—a perpetual-motion machine of no-stakes elation and champagne fizz ... Sex and Rage isn’t as sharp as the books Babitz made her name on—she’s really a memoirist—but it’s nonetheless a mesmerizing account of a young woman trying to decide what to do about her own premonitions. The barely audible beat of an unlucky future may have been part of what made Babitz immortalize herself with passages like this one, in which Jacaranda imagines how Max sees her: 'a rare enough thing—a native-born Angeleno grown up at the edge of America with her feet in the ocean and her head in the breaking waves.'”
The Dark DarkSamantha Hunt
RaveThe New YorkerThe Dark Dark wields such a subtle and alien power that I couldn’t read more than a couple of pieces in a sitting without feeling like some witchy substance was working its way through my blood ... With this strange, elemental quality running through them, the people of The Dark Dark are not altogether different from the animals of The Dark Dark, who are wonderfully spooky—the dog that dies and then comes back to life, or the horse that walks calmly onto frozen, cracking ice.
RaveThe New Yorker Page-TurnerThree-quarters of the way through Claire-Louise Bennett’s début collection, Pond, there’s a story called 'Morning, 1908' that altered my state of consciousness like a drug...Pond, which was first published, last year, by a small press in Ireland, is not organized around a narrative, and few of its twenty stories are, either. What moves the reader forward is the sense the stories convey of a real-time psychological fabric: the reader experiences the narrator’s world at the same pace she does, a thing chopped up into irregular units organized by vague questions and obscurely colored moods. Like Lydia Davis, Bennett, who is from the southwest of England, takes a state of mind closely associated with madness and places it in settings that are utterly domestic, mundane. The result is fervid and fearful; at times, Pond recalls works by Knut Hamsun and Samuel Beckett, in which characters are more obviously forced into states of isolation. At other points, the book evokes the cottage hymns of Katharine Tynan, the pure formal eccentricity of Emily Dickinson, and the dread-laced, detonating uncertainty of W. B. Yeats. It is also funny.
Exit WestMohsin Hamid
RaveThe New YorkerHamid draws enchantment from abstraction, in the style of a fairy tale, and his narrative vantage point shifts through time and space with a godlike equanimity ... Hamid, through this roaming narration, gently diminishes Saeed and Nadia, freeing them from the burden of speaking for the millions who share their condition. They seem like the focal point of Exit West, rather than its center, even though they’re the only characters who are given names ... Hamid rewrites the world as a place thoroughly, gorgeously, and permanently overrun by refugees and migrants, its boundaries reconfigured so that 'the only divisions that mattered now were between those who sought the right of passage and those who would deny them passage.; He doesn’t flinch from the mess and anger that come from redistribution and accommodation—but, still, he depicts the world as resolutely beautiful and, at its core, unchanged. The novel feels immediately canonical, so firm and unerring is Hamid’s understanding of our time and its most pressing questions.
Fever DreamSamantha Schweblin
RaveThe New YorkerNo previous book, at least, has filled me with unease the way Fever Dream did ... Schweblin sustains both conversations while narrowing them toward a single question: the mysterious horror of the worms. Intertwined, these two dialogues form a shadow of an explanation—one that runs on nightmare logic, inexorable but elusive, and always just barely out of reach ... In Fever Dream, every body is a shell for another voice, another presence. The reader begins to feel as if she is Amanda, tethered to a conversation that thrums with malevolence but which provides the only alternative to the void. Eventually, I began to mistrust every word—not because of the potential dishonesty of the characters, and not because the artifice in Schweblin’s conceit was becoming unwieldy. Rather, I sensed that something terrible was happening just out of sight ... the genius of Fever Dream is less in what it says than in how Schweblin says it, with a design at once so enigmatic and so disciplined that the book feels as if it belongs to a new literary genre altogether.
Sour HeartJenny Zhang
RaveThe New YorkerJenny Zhang’s astounding short-story collection, Sour Heart, combines ingenious and tightly controlled technical artistry with an unfettered emotional directness that frequently moves, within single sentences, from overwhelming beauty to abject pain ... The collection’s organizing theme is familial love that warps a person beyond all recognition: specifically, a type of immigrant devotion with a power that is both creative and entropic, and which affects its recipients in idiosyncratic ways ... Until now, Zhang has been better known for poetry and essays, but she has a background in fiction and she has a knack for deploying and combining common literary devices for mischievous, unexpected ends.
Why I Am Not a FeministJessa Crispin
MixedThe New YorkerThe point of Why I Am Not a Feminist isn’t really that Crispin is not a feminist; it’s that she has no interest in being a part of a club that has opened its doors and lost sight of its politics ... Crispin’s argument is bracing, and a rare counterbalance; where feminism is concerned, broad acceptability is almost always framed as an unquestioned good ... in some places where Crispin’s argument requires her to take a precise measure of contemporary feminism, she—or this book’s production schedule—can’t quite account for the complexity of the times...Much of what she denounces—'outrage culture,' empowerment marketing, the stranglehold that white women have on the public conversation—has already been critiqued at length by the young feminist mainstream ... The most vital strain of thought in Why I Am Not a Feminist is Crispin’s unforgiving indictment of individualism and capitalism, value systems that she argues have severely warped feminism, encouraging women to think of the movement only insofar as it leads to individual gains ... her book arrives at a useful and perhaps unexpected cultural inflection point: a time when political accommodation appears fruitless, and when many middle-class white women have marched in closer proximity to far-left ideas than perhaps they ever would have guessed ... Of course, this being a polemic, there’s not much space given to how, exactly, the total disengagement with our individualist and capitalist society might be achieved.
Women Who WorkIvanka Trump
PanThe New YorkerThis is an ill-advised endeavor, in theory. In practice, it is an even worse idea than it seems ... Women Who Work is mostly composed of artless jargon and inspirational quotes you might find by Googling 'inspirational quotes.' Her exhortations feel even emptier than usual in light of Trump’s stated policy goals ... The book ultimately doesn’t try very hard to obscure the fact that the Women Who Work initiative was created, as the Times recently reported, as a way to make Ivanka products more marketable ... Women Who Work is written for an audience whose greatest obstacles are internal, and Ivanka’s advice is, once again, Ivanka-specific.
Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildJ.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
PositiveThe New YorkerIt’s ambitious, studded with predictable and consequently satisfying twists that reach a critical mass in the finale. This feels very much like Rowling ... Even in the relatively fixed future where most of Cursed Child takes place, the characters are the right degree of surprising. Harry Potter himself has been so thoroughly, faithfully imagined since 1997 that it’s satisfying to see him as a crappy father and an awkward bureaucrat ... Without set decoration, it cleanly shows the moral imagination of the Harry Potter universe, in which goodness is circumstantial and endings are never guaranteed.