RaveThe Los Angeles Times...[an] extraordinary debut collection ... This might be one of the sexiest books ever made from the long fallout of war ... Lyricism is so often over-used in poetry, but here Sharif deploys it perfectly; she heightens language to remember what was.
The Fire This Timeed. Jesmyn Ward
RaveThe Boston GlobeJesmyn Ward has assembled a collection as vital to living in our times as Coates’s letter and Rankine’s poem ... To read The Fire This Time is to feel what it is like to live through a terrible resurgence of our central never-dormant idea about race. Namely, that a black or brown life is of less value than a white one ... an extraordinary anthology.
The Fox Was Ever the HunterHerta Müller
RaveThe Boston Globe“The Fox Was Ever the Hunter feels like a documentary novel, but reads like poetry. In 33 chapters, the book spirals gently outward. Here are the jobless fishing in a corpse-lined river, children roped into the tomato harvest but punished for eating any fruit themselves. Here are factory workers, copulating standing up in the shadows, desperate for warmth ... In most books, especially novels written in the West, narrative tension tends to derive from forward momentum, from evolution. In The Fox Was Ever The Hunter, that machinery has been turned inward to create pressure. Propulsion comes from what happens when people are living a life that feels increasingly untenable.
Zero KDon DeLillo
RaveThe Boston GlobeUntil now, Don DeLillo’s fiction has satirized our impulse to purify, to be superhuman, to enter higher states, most notably, in his National Book Award winning White Noise. Zero K may poke fun at life extension, but it gives us the warmest depiction of a DeLillo novel yet at the intimate reason for this perpetual Icarus complex. Yes, there is greed, and there are ways our culture encourages us to pursue our technocratic existence for eternity — in terrorism, in art, in culture, in finance. Social media. But ultimately, the most powerful reason for this desire for transcendence is love, and as Zero K so poignantly reminds, love is one element that does not survive at subfreezing zero kelvin.
Better Living Through CriticismA. O. Scott
PositiveThe Boston Globe...[Scott] attempts — and largely succeeds — in rescuing criticism from the ideological and culture kudzu that has grown round it as we’ve leapt from the culture wars into the age of the Internet and cultural relativism. Once clear of all this, he discovers an activity at the heart of living.
Black DeutschlandDarryl Pinckney
RaveThe Boston GlobeIt’s hard to think of a recent novel that so vividly and sensually brings to life a time and place. Black Deutschland sees Berlin like a flaneur and a guide, chattily leading us deeper and deeper into its interior spaces.
The Story of the Lost ChildElena Ferrante
RaveThe Boston GlobeOld romances; the tiny slights of a domineering mother; the status anxieties of growing up parochial: Ferrante has written a book that feels as rich and layered as life itself.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeMark Haddon
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelLike many autistics, Christopher's goal each day is to preserve order in his routine. So when he discovers that his neighbor's dog has been murdered with a garden fork, this unlikely hero who is initially blamed for the crime immediately sets out to uncover what exactly happened, just as his favorite literary hero, Sherlock Holmes, would … Told in Christopher's stiff, almost robotic voice, The Curious Incident depicts how investigating this petty crime forces our hero to participate in the world around him, a world whose chaos he's feared his entire life … [Haddon] has crafted a tale full of cheeky surprises and tender humor.
Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell
RaveThe Hartford CourantThere are just six narratives in this story, but they fold in on one another with dazzling elegance … One of the biggest joys of Cloud Atlas is to watch Mitchell sashay from genre to genre without a hitch in his dance step. Whether you are a fantasy-book reader or a thriller reader, a fan of epistolary novels or a reader of journals, you will find Cloud Atlas maintains a startling level of authenticity throughout … there is more to Mitchell's act than pyrotechnics – there is an intense and serious moral core, one that sees not just individuals but a galaxy of humans trying, and often failing, to live mindfully. Watching Mitchell's characters act, and then seeing how their actions reverberate across time, it's hard not to agree that causality may be one of the thorniest moral issues in existence.
The Art of FieldingChad Harbach
RaveThe Seattle TimesUnlike so many young writers, who herald the loser as a kind of everyman, this is a book full of winners. Who are losing. Baseball stars, sought-after academics, beautiful young women and talented students all fall flat on their face across this novel. And bless him, Harbach doesn't indulge an ounce of schadenfreude … One-by-one this book's entire cast suffers some setback or another, and Harbach shows them doing that most American thing: Improvising … This is an absorbing and autumnal novel set in a place — the academy — and about a game — baseball — that have both been written to death. That Harbach makes it feel brand new feels like talent.
All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe neat symmetry of Marie-Laure and Werner’s childhoods — one spent in darkness, the other exploring sound — would seem too obvious a mirror in another writer’s hands. Doerr, however, has packed each of his scenes with such refractory material that All the Light We Cannot See reflects a dazzling array of themes … As far as World War II novels go, All the Light You Can See follows some of the usual pathways — love and greed are the magnetizing poles of its compass — but its language feels startlingly fresh. Doerr has retooled his sentences into short bursts of sensory information. He has also turned his skill at compression and miniaturization to creating metaphorical pivot points.
Lincoln in the BardoGeorge Saunders
RaveThe Boston Globe...one of the strangest and most remarkable books about love, loss, and the afterlife ... Fans of Saunders’s stories — some of the most original work in American history — have craved this book for a long time, and he has not disappointed. Saunders has disassembled the novel as a form and put it back together in a fascinating shape. Dozens of voices spread out across the page like floating spirits ... Saunders veers compellingly between high and low, hideous and heartbreaking. Raped slaves run into the racist generals who fought against their freedom. Two men enraptured by each other’s flattery conjoin in an endless circular back-patting ... In the past two decades, in short stories and essays largely about America, Saunders has often revealed characters in their worst moments and managed to look upon them with love and forgiveness. Lincoln in the Bardo, for all its zooming silliness, manages to do something similar on the level of metaphysics. It finds in reasons grand and grotesque a similarity between our greed to live and our need to die.
Those Who Leave and Those Who StayElena Ferrante
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewIn Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay the heroine’s exorcism of her demons becomes an interesting part of the story’s sweep, not a cute metafiction. It is now the 1960s, and student movements are beginning to sweep across Europe, meaning that while the conservatism of Naples still gnaws at Elena, universities are becoming receptive to her modern attitudes about sex and power. All the while the tale of her friend Lila lingers in her mind, even after Lila makes her promise not to tell it … Narrating in Elena’s voice, which cascades from sensual reactions to reflections and an inner intelligence, Ferrante describes the watchfulness and atavistic needs that her heroine oscillates between.
The Pale KingDavid Foster Wallace
MixedThe Boston GlobeHow Wallace planned to steer us through these richly imagined lives, if he did at all, shall remain a mystery. It seems possible he would have had it both ways — a deep panoply of lives and the post-modern awareness of how this was all constructed, both the work and the vortex of current life … The Pale King gives us, at its best, a glimpse of a writer wrestling with these questions. How do you imagine the texture of boredom without being boring? Where do you acknowledge your reader without breaking the spell that defines a reader’s existence? At its worst, the book reminds us that Wallace would have given this novel a shape that turned such interrogatives into a system of its own.
The LowlandJhumpa Lahiri
MixedThe Boston GlobeThe history here feels researched, rather than felt. This would make sense were it being presented from Subhash’s point of view. Indeed, as a teenager, he leaves Calcutta and travels to Rhode Island to study maritime biology. But the history is by and large simply dumped into the novel … Lahiri allows Gauri’s dilemma — being beholden to a man she does not love — to do most of the work here. Her writing is pitched downward. The sentences are crisp and short, unadorned … Lahiri tells a quietly devastating story about the nature of kindness. How it is never pure and often goes largely unrewarded. It simply is, and then the floodwaters rise and obscure its role in the landscape for a time.
On BeautyZadie Smith
PositiveThe Denver PostLike White Teeth, this novel squeezes a great deal of contemporary life between two covers. It is packed with tangents on the I-pod, the seepage of pornography into sex life and glimpses of life in America under President George W. Bush ... The Kippses are a righteous, shiny, successful and attractive clan. They also are fervent opponents of affirmative action; and they are black ... Mixed-race and politically liberal, the Belseys are utterly baffled by them ... If these paintings feel somewhat tacked onto the novel, like future reading group guide discussion points, what doesn’t feel forced are the portraits Smith paints of her main cast – particularly of Kiki...the book’s loveliest character ... a novel that is rich and entertaining, and in spite of the ugly truths it uncovers, often quite beautiful.
A Thousand Splendid SunsKhaled Hosseini
RaveThe Houston ChronicleIn Mariam and Laila, Hosseini has created two enormously winning female characters, women born into very different circumstances … As in The Kite Runner, there's a miniature history lesson embedded in A Thousand Splendid Suns. But Hosseini never belabors it. Nor does the book feel merely like a conveniently framed window onto a human rights issue … Hosseini may not be a lyrical writer but he marshals details well, which helps render his characters' plight — so foreign to us — in human terms … The texture of the women's journey will be familiar to those who read international news. But rendered as fiction it devastates in a new way.
The Line of BeautyAlan Hollinghurst
RaveThe Hartford Courant...a tale that is plangent and funny and perfectly written … The pressure and fizz of all this social collusion makes The Line of Beauty an intoxicating read … As Nick evolves from a virgin naif to a coke-addled party boy with a millionaire Lebanese boyfriend, The Line of Beauty becomes less a study of class than one about how those on the margins of Thatcherite London were tainted by that period's ecstatic vacuity … Hollinghurst has always been compared with the world's best stylists, but he truly enters a category all his own with The Line of Beauty. It takes a delicate hand to poke fun at the fetishizing of style while being stylish oneself, but Hollinghurst pulls it off. Each sentence in this book rings as perfect and true as a Schubert sonata.
The Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes
RaveThe Cleveland Plain DealerThis book manipulates. It wheedles and churns for our affection. It sounds the right notes. But then, slowly, it dawns on the reader that its teller is not as in control of the facts as he first appears … It is a chilling and potent moment the instant one realizes that Tony, in spite of having lived it, is not an expert in his own life … His agitations for closure progress from the plangent to the comical to the downright rude, giving this short, unlikely novel the even unlikelier distinction of being a page-turner. You arrive at its conclusion breathless and befuddled, duped into the idea that a life's conclusion brings some kind of wisdom. Not always.
RaveThe Orlando SentinelMartin bravely and honestly explores a somewhat overlooked perspective on life in the antebellum South – that of the wives of plantation owners … With swift and deliberate plotting, Property pits Manon in competition against her house slave Sarah, even though neither much cares for the prize. Manon orders Sarah to perform menial tasks just to prove that she can, while all Sarah has to do to crush her mistress's heart is nurse her mixed-blood baby in plain sight. Although Manon's cruelty is abominable, Martin does not judge her for it, instead portraying her as a woman caught in the grip of a system – slavery – that degrades all it touches … As Manon's monologue progresses, it becomes clear that Sarah is not just her erotic competitor but a benchmark for how paltry her mistress's freedom is.
Europe CentralWilliam T. Vollmann
RaveThe Boston GlobeVollmann's [novel] is a hall of mirrors – each tale getting a kind of sister story that forms its opposite image. Enter the book, take a twirl around, and you are presented with a kind of kaleidoscopic portrait of life in Europe around the dawn of World War II, when totalitarianism was on the rise. Try to find your way out and you will become, well, a little lost. This sense of claustrophobia and confusion is, one imagines, purposeful, as Europe Central aims to show how totalitarianism occurred and how it felt on the inside, and to bring us up close and personal with the nubbly texture of history.
RaveNPRThere are few perfect debut American novels...To this list ought to be added Paul Harding's devastating first book, Tinkers, the story of a dying man drifting back in time to his hardscrabble New England childhood, growing up the son of his clockmaking father. The mystery and machinery of these ticking timepieces appear and reappear throughout this beautiful book, which cycles backward and forward in time, capturing with awful grace the unwinding of a life … Harding has written a masterpiece around the truism that all of us, even surrounded by family, die alone.
The White TigerAravind Adiga
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHalwai, we learn right away, has climbed his way out of this environment and now runs a successful start-up corporation, but he is wanted by the law for a murder. Over the course of seven days, he describes his miraculous journey to Chinese politician Wen Jiabao in a series of letters that veer between acid sarcasm and shaky remorse. This gambit is hardly the work of a finesse writer, but it allows Adiga, who formerly worked as a business journalist, to report on his country to an outsider without needing to apologize for the constant sweep and scope of his narrative lens … Sarcasm is Adiga's sledgehammer, morality his anvil. It's not a subtle tale, but there's a beaten, beveled perfection to its fury.
The Great FireShirley Hazzard
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteHeaving into peacetime with a numb heart and an eye for conspiracy, Hazzard's hero falls desperately in love with the young daughter of a British brigadier. Touring Japan, he notes how a defeated nation gathers itself in peacetime, secretly aware that to endure peacetime he must do the same thing … For all its spine-tingling finery, the novel is an often dense read. Hazzard's characters speak to another of the global theater in tones so formal you'd think they were sitting at a Council on Foreign Relations roundtable, rather than chatting over a gin and tonic. Even more baffling, she will often switch between two characters in one chapter, so that it's hard to tell who is speaking. Given the subtleties of their conversations, it's important to know where Leith and Exley stand.
The Ministry of Utmost HappinessArundhati Roy
RaveThe Boston Globe...a fierce and fabulously disobedient novel, a book as fearless as her essays on the environment, nuclear proliferation, and Kashmiri independence are bold ... announces itself page by page in noisy, foul-mouthed, and staggeringly beautiful sentences. In moments it reads like a feminist version of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, only in Delhi instead of Bombay, 70 years after the partition of India and Pakistan, the event that sits at the heart of both books ... Roy shows how sectarian hatred and violence shapes lives in a series of interlocking stories so fully realized they both feel intimate yet vibrate with the tragicomedy of myth ... Once a decade, if we are lucky, a novel emerges from the cinder pit of living that asks what increasingly appears to be the urgent question of our global era. How do you write fiction in an era when states are deformed by the violence they do in the name of nationalism and power? Roy’s novel is this decade’s ecstatic and necessary answer.
House of NamesColm Tóibín
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn Colm Tóibín’s extraordinary new novel, The House of Names, it feels as if that night watchman has finally been allowed to speak. Drawing upon Greek tragedy as deftly as he borrowed the story of the Virgin mother in his 2013 Booker Prize finalist novel, The Testament of Mary, Tóibín has found the gaps in the myth, reimagining all as a profoundly gripping and human tale ... Here he has found yet another register, a language which is declarative and figurative at once. It feels entirely believable as of its time. There is no space between things and their representation, and as such there are almost no similes in the book. As a result, the prose creates enormous velocity ... What is truly miraculous, though, is how Tóibín has made us sympathize with people who do terrible, unthinkable things.
How to Be BothAli Smith
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn How to Be Both Smith puts her rebellious theory to its most intense test yet. Told in two long stories, the book is a tale about time and gender. Brilliant and cheeky, but also profoundly mournful, it will one day join Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as a key text in understanding the fluidity of human life … George’s and Francesco’s tales mirror each other like two ice skaters slicing a perfect routine. Both begin with a member of the dead, speaking into the present. They are love stories, and they are tales of grief. They also pivot neatly around notions of watching and the watched.
Vernon God LittleDBC Pierre
RaveThe Houston ChronicleVernon God Little might be the most vicious satire of American life to come out of England since Martin Amis' 1985 Money. Set in a small Texas town where residents' dependence on fried food and television has transformed them into oversize lemmings, the book puts an astute if needling finger on the scary collusion between entertainment and law enforcement in American culture … Martirio is a town painted with cartoonish stereotypes and scatological broad strokes....In the process of ranting about his town and family, Vernon beautifully mangles language into his own crude idiom. He complains about becoming a ‘scate-goat’ for a crime he did not commit, and worries that the ‘paradime’ shift that a sketchy TV producer promises him will actually put him behind bars. Mexicans are ‘Meskins,’ Timberland boots become ‘Tumbledowns.’ Even funnier, however, are the metaphors Vernon uses, most of which are too colorful to cite.
The Unwomanly Face of WarSvetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
RaveThe Boston GlobeAlexievich’s introduction is worth the book’s cost alone. Anyone who has ever elicited important stories or traumatic remembrances ought to read it ... Like all soldiers, they lost limbs; sanity fled their minds like messenger pigeons. They also buried brothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, and in some cases, lovers, all this recorded beautifully by Alexievich, who guides us from interview to interview in brief italicized sections. Layering the quotations, and then moving on to a new theme: fear, love, victory, remembrance ... Thousands upon thousands of them came home, and in this frightening and lacerating book — as beautiful as a ruined cathedral — Alexievich has turned their voices into history’s psalm.