Book Reviews Archive

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

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Gabel studied cello for years and her experience is evident as she spools out the plot, repeats motifs and varies the story's tempo and dynamics. Music dictates the structure of the book, too, which is arranged in four parts, like a concerto, with a short coda at the end.

Night Beast and Other Stories by Ruth Joffre

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Joffre achieves fluidity by refusing labels, marrying concrete sensory details to emotions, and using elements of fabulism and magical realism. Taken together, the effect is dreamlike, but never serene.

A Theory of Love by Margaret Bradham Thornton

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The novel, which shifts third-person perspective between two lovers, reveals the impossibility of ever fully knowing someone when thoughts are inscrutable even to the people thinking them.

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

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In A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley’s stunning debut collection, the stories are not formally linked, and yet they are, implicitly, by their beautiful prose, by their intimate gaze at character, by their focus on black men, by their setting in New York City.

Leïla Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny and the Perils of Female Desire

“The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” So begins Leïla Slimani’s French bestseller, translated into English by Sam Taylor. The thriller won France’s Prix Goncourt—Moroccan-born Slimani is only the twelfth woman to win the award—and uses an American news story as its source.

West by Carys Davies

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There is a pathos and also an infuriating self-indulgence to the central protagonist, Cy, obsessed with finding lost dinosaurs, rumours of which abound, in the lands beyond the Mississippi.

The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl

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Hampl has been writing at the intersection of memoir and essay for most of her life. Now, displaying a heightened partnership of experience and reflection, she revisits people and events with insight produced by leisure and the ostensibly wasted day.

Dictionary Stories by Jez Burrows

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Inherent to Dictionary Stories is the question of what makes an ideal sentence that best reveals the meaning of a word.

Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

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Invoking the “boundless” and the “limitless,” Nezhukumatathil sets out a simple, yet profound, argument about our relations with the natural world: the more we feel the ocean’s embrace, the sooner we sense its particular “hum” everywhere.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

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The Female Persuasion never disappoints: there are twists and turns that keep us guessing, new voices to take on the storytelling task, and heartbreak as friends and lovers disappoint, deceive, and part ways.