RaveThe Boston GlobeThese are stories about fear, what engenders it, how it is magnified, mitigated, or aggrandized into something at once annihilating and sublime. Insight is partial, transport ephemeral but resonantly strange. Uncanny moments of honesty or 'bright rawness' stud the experiences of Hunt’s characters like flashing gems. Hunt is by turns hilarious, wry, wrenching, and lyrical. Her ability to make a deft turn from the comic to the poignant is remarkable, her humaneness sometimes incongruous but never in doubt. For all their eeriness, their unwavering, unrelenting confrontation with defeat, disappointment, and despair, the ultimate effect of the stories in The Dark Dark is inspiriting, nourishing, and finally comforting ... Hunt’s subtlety of vision, her embrace of her panoply of oddballs and misfits, her willingness to make leaps of logic and association in order to link diverse phenomena — these virtues of empathy make her darkness, against every grain, a place of original and truly radical connectedness.
Men Without WomenHaruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen
RaveThe Boston GlobeMany of the stories hover between realism and surreal dreamscape. And Murakami’s voice — cool, poised, witty, characterized by a peculiar blend of whimsy and poignancy, wit and profundity — hasn’t lost its power to unsettle even as it amuses ... Even the married men exist in their own private bubbles of disquiet and despair. Deep isolation pervades each story ... The men of these stories are trying to have it both ways. It is not surprising therefore that they find themselves caught in the middle of nowhere. Murakami’s imagination is the luminous half-light of that common, contradictory country.
The Idiot.Elif Batuman
PositiveThe Boston GlobeVery tall, with an unusual face, a Turkish-American girl who grew up in New Jersey, attends Harvard, and aspires to be a writer, Selin is clearly a stand-in for Batuman. Moreover, parts of The Idiot replicate almost verbatim sections from essays in The Possessed ... Batuman nails the details of mid-1990s college life. Albert Einstein, REM, and Ansel Adams posters, Edward Gorey and Klimt prints abound. We have snoring roommates, fajita night in the cafeteria, meet-ups for frozen yogurt, CARE packages from parents, halogen lamps, black Jersey clothes from the Gap, fake IDs ... The Idiot is told in short, largely self-contained segments, a tactic that makes for sharp, well-defined scenes but sometimes undermines the novel’s flow, coherence, and elegance. It also peters out rather unsatisfactorily. But Selin is such good company that we easily forgive any formal lapses. At once a cutting satire of academia, a fresh take on the epistolary novel, a poignant bildungsroman, and compelling travel literature, The Idiot is also a touching and spirited portrait of the artist as a hugely appealing young woman.
Homesick For Another WorldOttessa Moshfegh
RaveThe Boston Globe...startling and impressive ... collectively they reveal Moshfegh’s pervasive preoccupations: ugliness, depravity, wackos and weirdos, the sordid and the morbid, the perverse and the profane ... Despite her unsparing dissection of their paranoias, fetishes, and failings, Moshfegh doesn’t condescend to her characters; she is both gimlet-eyed and compassionate. These are 'sad. . . lonely and troubled' people, but many are improbably appealing; even the most twisted and tortured have recognizably human qualities ... The stories, quite frankly, are not just grotesque; they are gross. Reading them is an uncomfortable experience. The squeamish and the Pollyannaish will likely find life inside Moshfegh’s world harsh, painful, torturous. But if you can stomach the discomfort, there is both piercing wit and unexpected poignancy to be found in Moshfegh’s original and resonant collection.
Critics Monsters FanaticsCynthia Ozick
RaveThe Boston Globe[Critics, Monsters, Fanatics] is bristling with energy, pulsing with electricity, vibrantly alive ... both a testament to her inimitable brilliance and a clarion call for the indispensability of the critical enterprise ... Reading her, we watch a mind stroll about, hungry, fearless, supple, in unrelenting search of truth, beauty, meaning ... Throughout, Ozick emphasizes how once towering figures in the literary firmament have been reduced to minor deities or cast out of the heavens altogether; others hover on the brink of oblivion.
The Little Red ChairsEdna O'Brien
MixedThe Boston GlobeBut there aren’t a lot of perspective-changing insights here. O’Brien doesn’t really illuminate the nature of evil in a book that seems badly to want to. This is owing in part to Vlad and Fidelma’s being the least interesting characters in the novel ... These objections aside, The Little Red Chairs has much to recommend it: beautiful writing, immense ambition, a vivid cast of supporting characters, and a rigorous humanitarian ethos. But we want to have been better beguiled, more intricately and subtly seduced by the author’s imaginative power.
You Don't Have To Say You Love MeSherman Alexie
PositiveThe Boston Globe...a fierce howl of pain and a dark hymn to Sherman Alexie’s immensely difficult, indomitable mother ... Like Lillian with her children, Alexie can exhaust us with his intensity, his inability to be pinned down, and his loquacious repetitiveness. But with his self-lacerating wit, his reckless candor, his gusto, he woos us back again and again. He swims in self-theatricality as his slippery medium; he is large; he contains multitudes. The Whitmanian appeal of his performance is wholly self-conscious — and largely winning ... Mystery, paradox, the currency of counterfeit secrets: The drama of not knowing is what we are left with in this searching, concealing, by turns hilarious and wrenching, vibrantly alive book.
American Philosophy: A Love StoryJohn Kaag
PositiveThe Boston GlobeHis history of American philosophy is lucid and compelling. He writes with refreshing clarity, humility, and a welcome absence of jargon. We learn a lot about the human beings behind the famous tomes ... Kaag is delightfully self-probing, radically honest about his own flaws, and insightful in linking his intellectual interests to his personal history ... strangely in a book designed to put people first, none of the other individuals — not Kaag’s late father, his mother, his first wife, the Hocking granddaughters, not even Hay — really comes alive as distinctive and memorable ... Overall, however, American Philosophy, still manages to be a lovely, intelligent, edifying, and admirable book.
RaveThe Boston GlobeEgan deftly and movingly joins Manhattan Beach’s ostensibly very different characters with surprising parallelisms, arresting images, and an ethically capacious gaze...her characters attain a shared humanity across boundaries of race, gender, or moral code. The gangster Dexter Styles elicits as much empathic care as does the plucky, indomitable Anna ... Throughout the novel, Egan summons the sea in all its primordial allure and exploits all of water’s myriad associations and oppositions — depth and surface, buoyancy and gravity, the unconscious, cleansing, and rebirth — in a book that shimmers with poetry. At once a suspenseful novel of noir intrigue, a gorgeously wrought and richly allusive literary tapestry, and a transporting work of lyrical beauty and emotional heft, Manhattan Beach is a magnificent achievement.
Forest DarkNicole Krauss
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe tangled necessity of such doubleness is one of Krauss’s core themes and the key to her characters’ quests: how we are at once shaped and confined by the forms we require for life, be they stories, relationships, or places. Krauss enters deeply into the ideas of form and formlessness, and sometimes these excursions dead-end into arid regions of metaphysical inquiry. But the austerity is largely met, or at least freshened, by a countervailing, vivifying impulse ... Structure is necessary for life, also for reformed life. One of the gifts that it provides is a plan for organizing ourselves, sometimes against the very objects we have become, so we can spring forward with opposed concentration, as Nicole and Epstein begin to spring, and Krauss does too.