RaveBookforum...when I term Borne the author’s best work yet, it’s precisely for this untrammeled inventiveness. VanderMeer has brought off a fiction that takes him again and again to his strength, namely, imaginative spectacle. Better yet, while the freak show tends to horrors like the factory massacre, the violence isn’t unrelenting. Rather the plot alternates between fireworks and stillness, and many of the quiet moments might be called romantic interludes ... insofar as I had misgivings, they arose from a sense of overflow, of too much. In the final chapters, I was glad to learn just what Borne was, but I could’ve done without the additional backstory for Wick and Rachel. Still, I’d never argue the end was less than thrilling—or that thrills are the whole point. VanderMeer never stints on the humanity of his players, not even the one who isn’t human.
RaveThe Washington PostI can’t help but think of his new Shadowbahn as the best kind of experiment: provocative throughout, alive with laughter and surprising in the ways it stirs the heart ... If Shadowbahn weren’t such an outlier, plot summary wouldn’t present such a conundrum. Although there are suspenseful stretches, by and large the story is driven by sheer invention. Each imaginative leap lands on the twinned themes of American music and history ... much of the book’s second half is spent, as one character puts it, 'waxing philosophical.' But if this is Erickson’s most meditative novel, it’s also his most hilarious.
The Unfinished World and Other StoriesAmber Sparks
PositiveBookforumFascinating in its serendipity, yet alert to pangs of the ordinary, The Unfinished World succeeds well beyond the author’s debut, May We Shed These Human Bodies (2012), turning up 'magic in every corner.'
Hotels of North AmericaRick Moody
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerHotels often brings off paradoxes: a sweet stay that turns to a bitter memory, or a farce that tumbles into an abyss of grief. Most of the funny business derives from an unsparing honesty about the American hardscrabble.
The FugitivesChristopher Sorrentino
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerHis first novel in a decade indeed delivers comedy. There's romance, too, though the rating would be a hard X, and things often drop into gloom. Yet the downbeats never drag. The narrative tumbles along like a snowball, picking up a casino heist, murder after murder, and perhaps a ghost story.
High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American ClassicGlenn Frankel
PositiveThe Washington PostFrankel’s fresh understanding, to be sure, owes a lot to plain old digging. A former Washington Post reporter, he unearthed Kramer’s confession of helplessness, for instance, in a taped conversation that had languished for decades. The provenance is clarified in one of the text’s many hundreds of endnotes — and his bibliography is equally exhaustive. The heaps of research, however, never snuff out what’s entertaining about scenes such as the culture clash around the émigré’s piano. Frankel’s grasp of cinema’s 'collaborative effort' leads to a juggling act, switching points of view among the film’s chief contributors ... Although the Red Scare’s trail of betrayal and ruin looks as heartbreaking as ever, the story can’t help but feel a tad rehashed. Frankel’s chapters on the hearings and their consequences rely on the same intense research as the rest (including material never published before), but they lack the warmth of the biographical passages ... Though Frankel began this sumptuous history long before the latest election, he ends up reminding us that 2016 was far from the first time politicians trafficked in lies and fear, and showing us how, nonetheless, people of integrity came together to do exemplary work.
A Brief History of Seven KillingsMarlon James
RaveThe Washington PostExploding with violence and seething with arousal, the third novel by Marlon James cuts a swath across recent Jamaican history. It leaves its Kingston ghettos strewn with victims, a few of them lovers, all of them spattered with blood … Whether ghost politicos or CIA spooks, all concur on Marley’s real-life good fortune: The Singer survived — a miracle and, in a book rife with secret murders, a stinging irony … The epic sweep of Seven Killings never feels cartoonish. James takes us deep into his criminal power dynamics, in monologues laced with breathtaking obscenities … What most distinguishes A Brief History of Seven Killings isn’t the outrages, but rather the odyssey.
Zero KDon DeLillo
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerAlmost six decades into publishing fiction, this author has put up a fresh career landmark...In this it also illuminates the change that's come over DeLillo since his last longer work, Underworld (1997). Symphonic density like that no longer interests him. He seeks instead a few resonant notes - a fable. He has brought off something simple but disturbing, revealing both the perils of faith and the power of Gospel.
White Nights in Split Town CityAnnie DeWitt
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerAlive with the poetry of a shaken pubescent girl walking on eggshells at home ... Rewarding passages crop up again and again, altogether outweighing the disappointments.