Fiction Reviews

Cleaver reviewers present the most exciting literary work from around the globe. We specialize in American independent press releases but also vital work in translation that’s all too often overlooked by American readers.

MIRROR, SHOULDER, SIGNAL, a novel by Dorthe Nors, reviewed by Brendan McCourt

MIRROR, SHOULDER, SIGNAL, a novel by Dorthe Nors, reviewed by Brendan McCourt

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
Above all else, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a novelist’s novel. Literary-minded readers will revel in the novel’s allegorical framework extending anywhere from cautionary tale to failed bildungsroman to a metaphor of novel reading itself ...
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HER BODIES AND OTHER PARTIES, stories by Carmen Maria Machado, reviewed by Rosie Huf

HER BODIES AND OTHER PARTIES, stories by Carmen Maria Machado, reviewed by Rosie Huf

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For those of us still traumatized by the 2016 Presidential election, the debut novel Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado, is the emotional and intellectual release for which we have been waiting. It is electric with the #Resist spirit. It underscores the importance of the #MeToo movement. And, it tackles issues such as gender, language, and human interaction through a fresh, folkloric perspective. Winner of the Bard Fiction Prize and finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, the Kirkus Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize, this collection of ten short stories is ...
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SCHLUMP, a novel by Hans Herbert Grimm, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

SCHLUMP, a novel by Hans Herbert Grimm, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

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When Hans Herbert Grimm’s semi-autobiographical novel Schlump was published in 1928 alongside All Quiet on the Western Front, it was advertised as a “truthful depiction” of World War I. It is no surprise that Grimm took on the the pseudonym Schlump, just as his protagonist does, to hide his identity. As explained by Volker Weidermann in the afterward, Grimm “describe[s] the German soldiers of the Great War as less than heroic,” and “the entire war as a cruel, bad joke.” While this caused the Nazis to burn his book in 1933, today it gives the text, translated by Jamie Bulloch, ...
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A WORKING WOMAN, a novel by Elvira Navarro, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

A WORKING WOMAN, a novel by Elvira Navarro, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

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“She wanted […] the location of her madness to be now the location of her art.” This is how the narrator of The Working Woman analyzes her roommate, but the same can be said of the narrator herself, and perhaps as well of the only figure in this postmodernist novel who actually “speaks:” the author, Elvira Navarro. The text becomes the conjunction of madness and art, which share one abstract and yet delineated “location,” madness needing expression through art, or art uniquely poised to express madness ...
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DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR, a novel by Anca L. Szilágyi, reviewed by Leena Soman

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR, a novel by Anca L. Szilágyi, reviewed by Leena Soman

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Tatiana is supposed to spend the summer before her junior year in high school in Vermont with her only friend while her mother summers in Rome. Instead, she hitches a ride from her boarding school’s Connecticut campus to Brooklyn. It’s 1980, and Tatiana renames herself Pluta, an alter ego she has long cultivated to meet the demands of this adventure. So begins Anca L. Szilágyi’s debut novel Daughters of the Air ...
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MALACQUA, a novel by Nicola Pugliese, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

MALACQUA, a novel by Nicola Pugliese, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

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Anyone who picks up And Other Stories’ edition of Malacqua, the first English translation of Nicola Pugliese’s Italian novel from 1977, will be immediately alerted to the strange weather which serves as the novel’s catalyst. Emblazoned across the book’s cover is Malacqua’s unofficial subtitle: Four Days of Rain in the City of Naples, Waiting for the Occurrence of an Extraordinary Event. Before even opening the book, the reader is clued into Pugliese’s supreme fascinations: water and Naples. And of course, the collision of the two ...
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PETITE FLEUR, a novel by Iosi Havilio, reviewed by August Thompson

PETITE FLEUR, a novel by Iosi Havilio, reviewed by August Thompson

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Iosi Havilio’s Petite Fleur is a great book because it is a work of surprises intimately knotted around each other. The plot twists and writhes. Murders and magic lead to diatribes about jazz fusion that leads to rebirth and love and examinations of the anxiety of parenthood and marriage. The unexpected is constant, the satisfaction complete ...
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THE MINORS by Chris Ludovici reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

THE MINORS by Chris Ludovici reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

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THE MINORS by Chris Ludovici Unsolicited Press, 376 pages reviewed by Ryan K. Strader Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in professional sports. A fastball travels at 90 miles per hour, moving from the pitcher’s mitt to the catcher’s glove in approximately .44 seconds. If the batter blinks, he’ll miss. For the last few feet that the ball travels, it is essentially invisible to the hitter. He has to have made his decision by then, whether to swing, how he’ll swing. I did not know anything about baseball when I picked up Chris Ludovici’s The Minors ...
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A MYRIAD OF ROADS THAT LEAD TO HERE, a novella by Nathan Elias, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

A MYRIAD OF ROADS THAT LEAD TO HERE, a novella by Nathan Elias, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

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Nathan Elias’ first novella, A Myriad of Roads that Lead to Here, tells a story that is simultaneously frustrating and accessible. This bildungsroman provides a snapshot into the emotional journey of a naive and sometimes selfish narrator, Weston, as he grapples with the untimely death of his mother, which had occurred a few months before ...
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KONUNDRUM: SELECTED PROSE OF FRANZ KAFKA by Franz Kafka reviewed by Eric Andrew Newman

KONUNDRUM: SELECTED PROSE OF FRANZ KAFKA by Franz Kafka reviewed by Eric Andrew Newman

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
With the centenary of Franz Kafka’s first three major publications having passed just a few years ago, a plethora of new translations of Kafka’s stories have recently been released. Among them is Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka, with works chosen and translated by Peter Wortsman, a writer known for his own micro fiction. Wortsman’s selection of what he considers to be the very best of Kafka’s short prose, whether it’s a story, a letter, a journal entry, a parable, or an aphorism distinguishes Konundrum from the other new translations. This approach contrasts with the single book-length work of Susan ...
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GODS ON THE LAM, a novel by Christopher David Rosales, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

GODS ON THE LAM, a novel by Christopher David Rosales, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

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Christopher David Rosales, on the dedication page, describes Gods on the Lam as “an homage to Roger Zelazny, without whose books I may never have been inspired to write.” Zelazny’s influence is evident. Famous for his direct execution and his penchant for genre-mixing, the lifeblood of the late speculative fiction author rushes through the twisty veins of this strange novel—Rosales’ second ...
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THE MASK OF SANITY, a novel by Jacob Appel, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

THE MASK OF SANITY, a novel by Jacob Appel, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

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The protagonist of Jacob Appel’s 2017 novel, The Mask of Sanity, is a doctor, a family man, and a murderer. Appel offers a rare insight into the life of this high functioning sociopath, Dr. Jeremy Balint. With a staggering seven master's degrees, medical degree, law degree, and experience in clinical psychiatry, Appel is certainly authority enough to paint a convincing psychological profile of such a troubling protagonist. The close third person narration allows the reader to hear Balint’s twisted thoughts, while also observing and nearly falling victim to the carefully constructed facade of “the most ethican human being on the ...
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MY SHADOW BOOK, a novel by MAAWAAM, edited by Jordan A. Rothacker, reviewed by William Morris

MY SHADOW BOOK, a novel by MAAWAAM, edited by Jordan A. Rothacker, reviewed by William Morris

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In the summer of 2011, novelist and scholar Jordan A. Rothacker discovered a box containing the journals of a being known as Maawaam. Thus begins My Shadow Book—part literary manifesto, part metafictional frame narrative. The novel itself is credited to Maawaam, while Rothacker gives himself the title of editor. This framing device, the found manuscript, is used throughout literature as a way of creating verisimilitude in the reading experience. By claiming to have found and compiled Maawaam’s papers, Rothacker gives the novel legitimacy as a real, authentic document, while also absolving himself of any blame for the contents: he simply ...
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ALL THAT MAN IS, a novel by David Szalay, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

ALL THAT MAN IS, a novel by David Szalay, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

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In an interview with NPR, David Szalay pointed out that the title of his novel, All that Man Is, can be read two different ways: “either as a sort of slightly disparaging, sort of all that man is, and this is it. Or it can be read as a sort of almost celebratory—everything, all the kind of great variety of experience that life contains.” Szalay seems to see his work as falling somewhere in between, not entirely “disparaging” nor precisely “celebratory,” since it is a study of men dealing with situations of personal crisis. While many reviewers have described All ...
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THE FUTURE WON’T BE LONG, a novel by Jarett Kobek, reviewed by Jordan A. Rothacker

THE FUTURE WON’T BE LONG, a novel by Jarett Kobek, reviewed by Jordan A. Rothacker

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The New York City of the decade in which The Future Won’t Be Long is set is a city in transition, sloughing off the dirty skin of a seriously fertile artistic period to eventually reveal a heartless skeleton scraped clean by Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD by the book’s end. From the start, the city is riveting for Baby, who describes how he “wandered New York, its manic energy seeping into my bones. The pavement vibrated, resonating with billions of earlier footsteps, centuries of people making their way, the city alive with the irregular heartbeat of its million cars and ...
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ISLAND OF POINT NEMO, a novel by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

ISLAND OF POINT NEMO, a novel by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

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Island of Point Nemo is a fast-moving adventure story featuring murderers, romance, and preternatural turns. But dig further into those turns, and the novel is ultimately a eulogy to books, both as physical objects and as containers for fiction. Written by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès and newly translated from French by Hannah Chute, Island of Point Nemo features suspenseful plotlines that intertwine in such a way as to make the reader question the natures of fiction, reality, and history ...
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INSURRECTIONS, stories by Rion Amilcar Scott, reviewed by William Morris

INSURRECTIONS, stories by Rion Amilcar Scott, reviewed by William Morris

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The stories in Rion Amilcar Scott’s debut collection, Insurrections, are set in Cross River, Maryland, a small East Coast city you won’t find on any map. The city itself is a work of fiction, but the lives of its inhabitants feel startlingly real. Among the Cross Riverians—or Riverbabies, depending on who you ask—included in this collection are a suicidal father, an old man known as the slapsmith, and a pair of brothers separated by the constantly flooding Cross River, which gives the city its name and divides it into the affluent Northside and impoverished Southside ...
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MAP DRAWN BY A SPY, a novel by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, reviewed by reviewed by Jacqueline Kharouf

MAP DRAWN BY A SPY, a novel by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, reviewed by reviewed by Jacqueline Kharouf

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Posthumous novels are both a joy and, sometimes, a let-down. Left behind by an author whose polished work stands as a testament to the full capacity of his or her mind, the words on the page surface at first like an extension from the past. This one last bit of evidence left for us to find. The posthumous novel should be examined and praised as a rare object—hidden in a vault, locked in an old suitcase, tucked into an envelope—and given a small bit of license for being not quite the full body of work its author intended ...
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NOTES OF A CROCODILE, a novel by Qiu Miaojin, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

NOTES OF A CROCODILE, a novel by Qiu Miaojin, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
Lazi argues that mapping secrets and pain can be a matter of life and death, and Qiu’s suicide seems to attest to that. Considering the stresses of our present age, where identities and ideologies are masking and unmasking, the intrapersonal mapping of identity is even more significant for artists that would influence culture. That might be another way that Notes of a Crocodile is oddly predictive; or, its tendency to speak so clearly to our global present might mean that Lazi—and Qiu’s—struggle for self-identification is timeless. In either case, Notes of a Crocodile is an important addition to literature that ...
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The Apostle Killer, a novel by Richard Beard, reviewed by Ansel Shipley

The Apostle Killer, a novel by Richard Beard, reviewed by Ansel Shipley

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The Apostle Killer by Richard Beard Melville House, 331 pages  reviewed by Ansel Shipley Jesus is the enemy in The Apostle Killer: a socialist anti-establishment religious extremist. In the novel, Richard Beard creates a world that melds both the superstitious past, in which a self-described Messiah could amass a frighteningly large following, and the skeptical present that labels such men religious extremists and terrorists. “With Jesus, the trickery is without end. If he feigned his death he was extending a pattern that started with the miracles because what you see, with Jesus, is rarely what you get.” The protagonist, ...
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GOING DARK, stories by Dennis Must, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner

GOING DARK, stories by Dennis Must, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner

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An aging and dying actor, a blank slate, a forgotten man. This is the first narrator the reader meets in Dennis Must’s 2016 collection of seventeen short stories, Going Dark. The narrator of the title story, though a nobody, shares much in common with the other narrators and characters of the stories that follow in the collection. Indeed, throughout the collection, Must’s characters wrestle with important questions about identity, sanity, and morality, as their lives are colored by the particular details of their lives: their cars, the music they listen to, and their work. . The reason the first narrator, ...
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LATE FAME, a novella by Arthur Schnitzler, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

LATE FAME, a novella by Arthur Schnitzler, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

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Herr Eduard Saxberger lives in a pleasant apartment overlooking the Vienna Woods. Each night after spending the day in his civil service office, he eats at his usual restaurant where he interacts little with his companions beyond small talk and basic requests, and goes for a walk. His life is stable, if a bit empty. But one day a young man named Wolfgang Meier appears at the door, clutching a copy of the Wanderings, poems by Eduard Saxberger, and the somewhat bumbling, bourgeois civil servant is thrown back into a past he hardly remembers ...
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THE BURNING GIRL, a novel by Claire Messud, reviewed by Amanda Klute

THE BURNING GIRL, a novel by Claire Messud, reviewed by Amanda Klute

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Hindsight never fails in providing a comprehensive scope of recently-felt chaos—this is the key narrative tool Claire Messud employs in her intimate coming-of-age novel, The Burning Girl. The Burning Girl offers deep insight into a seemingly minuscule and ordinary loss of two young Massachusetts girls, and quietly probes us to ponder the necessity, ridicule, and unfairness that results from a society prizing itself on the lack of innocence as means of survival ...
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THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES, a novel by Catherynne M. Valente, reviewed by Ansel Shipley

THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES, a novel by Catherynne M. Valente, reviewed by Ansel Shipley

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Catherynne M. Valente’s most recent novel, The Refrigerator Monologues, exists in an odd space between novel and what could be called a pseudo-parable. Valente’s six protagonists and her interconnected narratives clearly parallel famous female comic book characters and their narrative arcs. Each of them, in fact, exhibits numerous traits that link her to a specific DC or Marvel property, ensuring that nothing is lost on the reader ...
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FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS, a novel by Rebecca Entel, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS, a novel by Rebecca Entel, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

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“The narrator of this book is a Caribbean woman. You may have noticed that the writer of this book is not,” Rebecca Entel notes in a preface to Fingerprints of Previous Owners, her novel set at a resort built on the nettle-choked ruins of a former slave plantation. Alluding to her research and credentials as a scholar of nineteenth-century American literature, Entel does more than attempt to deflect criticism for cultural appropriation. She declares her investment in this story, as well as her intention to free her characters from a colonial narrative frame ...
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MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, a novel by Julie Lekstrom Himes, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader 

MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, a novel by Julie Lekstrom Himes, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader 

Julie Lekstrom Himes’ novel, Mikhail and Margarita, imagines the love affair that might have inspired The Master and Margarita. This is Himes’ first novel, following the publication of several short stories and essays. Himes is a physician in Massachusetts; interestingly, Bulgakov was also a physician. In an interview with the literary website Eye 94, Himes describes reading Bulgakov’s collection A Country Doctor’s Notebook (reflections on his early years as a doctor) and identifying with “the fear and regret and self-questioning” of a young doctor. Identifying with Bulgakov’s “voice” as a doctor encouraged Himes to try writing from his perspective, to ...
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BARDO OR NOT BARDO, a novel by Antoine Volodine, reviewed by Amada Klute

BARDO OR NOT BARDO, a novel by Antoine Volodine, reviewed by Amada Klute

Take the existential universe of Jean-Paul Sartre and pull his pants down around his ankles—this is the paradoxical narrative met with in French comedic novelist Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo. Volodine’s blunt, absurdist style illustrates a marriage between the profound and the comedic, using humor as a weapon to further investigate humanity’s most unanswerable questions ...
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EXPOSURE, short stories by Katy Resch George, reviewed by Rebecca Entel

EXPOSURE, short stories by Katy Resch George, reviewed by Rebecca Entel

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The cover of Exposure, a short story collection by Katy Resch George, hints at the kind of stories you’ll find inside. The photograph of a topless woman on a beach with her arms tugged behind her is both intimate and distant, the woman exposed but also obscured by the translucent type of the title and, in the repeated image, wrapped around the spine of the book, also underneath type. The woman’s expression is blocked by George’s name on the spine and, on the front cover, hard to make out. Is she scowling at the camera? Pondering something beyond it? Seductive, ...
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THE GERMAN GIRL, a novel by Armando Lucas Correa, reviewed by Kellie Carle

THE GERMAN GIRL, a novel by Armando Lucas Correa, reviewed by Kellie Carle

The German Girl permits readers to enter the minds of two 12-year-old girls as their lives are shaped by the tragedies of the SS St. Louis and 9/11. Correa expertly combines fact with fiction, as he constructs and then deconstructs the lives of two young girls. He also illustrates the importance a family’s history and the need to pass down history through the generations. The story of the contemporary girl, Anna, is imbedded (as is her name) in Hannah’s and though this is the conceit of the novel, it is also a weakness ...
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TRYSTING, fiction by Emmanuelle Pagano, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

TRYSTING, fiction by Emmanuelle Pagano, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

Emmanuelle Pagano’s Trysting is an intimate romance among hundreds. This book of fictional fragments, each in the first person, features character after character—most of indeterminate gender, age, and history—falling in and out of love. The self-contained pieces range from one sentence meditations to several hundred word flash fictions. The shortest of these could be writing prompts, while others read as prose poems. Reading Trysting can, in fact, be like reading a book of poetry, and it benefits from slow, thoughtful study. You could linger over any one piece, reread it and taste the rhythm, the carefully chosen words ...
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NAPOLEON’S LAST ISLAND, a novel by Thomas Keneally, reviewed by Nokware Knight

NAPOLEON’S LAST ISLAND, a novel by Thomas Keneally, reviewed by Nokware Knight

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Based on the synopsis (conquered conqueror stuck on island hesitantly befriends by young native girl) and artwork (an ocean crashing into the bottom of seaside cliffs) on the book jacket, I expected in part to read the account of an aged, brooding, and isolated man pacing away his final days on an isolated rock, sometimes tolerant of, sometimes avoidant, sometimes thankful for his friendship with a young girl who lives there. For better, and for worse, I found something else ...
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LILLI DE JONG, a novel by Janet Benton, reviewed by Joanne Green

LILLI DE JONG, a novel by Janet Benton, reviewed by Joanne Green

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“When I write, I forget that I don’t belong to myself.” So observes Lilli de Jong, whose journal entries narrate Janet Benton’s impressive debut novel, set in the 1880s. Lilli is as spirited and determined as Jane Eyre, as sensible as Elinor Dashwood, and as downtrodden as Little Nell. Yet on the subjects of reproductive rights, affordable day care, and the cost of motherhood for women the book speaks directly to readers, today ...
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FAMILY LEXICON, a novel by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

FAMILY LEXICON, a novel by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

Now in a new translation by Jenny McPhee (and with a new English title), Family Lexicon is Natalia Ginzburg’s Strega Prize winning memoir/novel of life in Italy before, during, and after World War II, Lessico famigliare, first published in 1963. Ginzburg is known mainly in this country for being a “writer’s writer,” a phrase which is often used to compensate for an author’s lack of fame. But in Ginzburg’s case, perhaps there’s a bit more to it; her essays are often assigned on writing workshop syllabi alongside favorites like Joan Didion, James Baldwin, and George Orwell. A quick Internet search ...
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TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy reviewed by William Morris

TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy reviewed by William Morris

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TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy New York Review Books, 288 Pages reviewed by William Morris I am writing this on Monday May 8, 2017, the night before Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays, a collection of the work of British writer Tom McCarthy, will be published. I checked my watch to be sure of the date, and found that it’s a day off. It claims today is the 7th. This small discrepancy is hardly worth noting, except as it pertains to McCarthy’s obsessive treatment of time in these essays. Time is an illusive business, a difficult thing to pin ...
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ATLANTIC HOTEL, a novel by João Gilberto Noll, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

ATLANTIC HOTEL, a novel by João Gilberto Noll, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

“Love. Call me Love, the Word Incarnate.”
This is the closest that readers get to a name for the protagonist and narrator of João Gilberto Noll’s strange little book, Atlantic Hotel, recently translated into English by Adam Morris. The novel is set in Brazil in the 1980s, and over the course of the book, the unnamed narrator embarks on a beguiling and pointless quest through the country. At different points he will seem to be—or perhaps will be—an actor, a priest, an alcoholic, an invalid. Along the way, Noll will shade his experiences with touches of Don Quixote and Odysseus, ...
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THE LONG DRY, a novel by Cynan Jones, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

THE LONG DRY, a novel by Cynan Jones, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

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Ultimately this is a beautiful little novel that leaves the reader reeling with the powerful emotions it manages to render in such a short space and with such sparse language. The simple storyline also gives leave for musings over possible symbolism. For example, what does the cow represent? Of course it could represent nothing in particular, simply a lost cow, one of the millions of small reasons we give ourselves to keep living purposefully each day ...
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LIKE DEATH, a novel by Guy de Maupassant, reviewed by Derek M. Brown

LIKE DEATH, a novel by Guy de Maupassant, reviewed by Derek M. Brown

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With Like Death, Richard Howard—poet, critic, essayist, and professor at Columbia University—offers a rendering of Maupassant’s Fort comme la mort that, I can only presume, retains all of the lyrical richness of the original, published in 1889. It also offers startling insight into the extent of Maupassant’s influence, which can be found in some of the 20th century’s most seminal works ...
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WAYWARD HEROES, a novel by Halldór Laxness, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

WAYWARD HEROES, a novel by Halldór Laxness, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
Certain great writers fade from the American memory like condensation from a windowpane. The Icelandic novelist Halldor Laxness—he was once all the rage here—is one. He was considered something of an upstart, a genius, a social novelist, a fellow traveler of Upton Sinclair and Bertolt Brecht, and he often journeyed between Europe and America. A Marxist-Stalinist who was very critical of America, he was once important enough to attract the personal ire of J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI, who worked hard to impoverish Laxness by attempting to confiscate profits from his U.S. book sales, which were considerable ...
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SHOT-BLUE, a novel by Jesse Ruddock, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

SHOT-BLUE, a novel by Jesse Ruddock, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

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Shot Blue is written in a style that somehow combines an easy-spoken blue collar minimalism with wordplay and lyricism. The oblique, hidden emotions of the characters are balanced in part by the ingenuity and playfulness of Ruddock’s language ...
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THE YEAR OF THE COMET, a novel by Sergei Lebedev, reviewed by Christina Tang-Bernas

THE YEAR OF THE COMET, a novel by Sergei Lebedev, reviewed by Christina Tang-Bernas

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The unnamed narrator of The Year of the Comet is born the moment an earthquake strikes Moscow. “The earthquake was my first impression of being: the world was revealed to me as instability, shakiness, the wobbliness of foundations.” Therefore, he observes, “My feelings, my ability to feel, were fashioned by that underground blow. I had trouble understanding anything to do with stability, immutability, and firmness, even though I wanted those states I could not achieve; disharmony was closer and more understandable than harmony.” ...
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SWIMMING LESSONS, a novel by Claire Fuller, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

SWIMMING LESSONS, a novel by Claire Fuller, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

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“A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader,” says writer Gil Coleman, the rogue central character of Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons. When he tells a bookshop assistant that “first editions don’t matter,” he seems to argue that access is more important than ownership, that a book’s content is more valuable than the object enclosing the text. But the impulse behind the sentiment is hardly democratic; his words cast light on his unequal marriage to Ingrid, a student he impregnates, derailing her education. Infamous for a single work (the lurid and presumably autobiographical A Man of ...
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WE’VE ALREADY GONE THIS FAR, stories by Patrick Dacey, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

WE’VE ALREADY GONE THIS FAR, stories by Patrick Dacey, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

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In Patrick Dacey’s first story collection, We’ve Already Gone This Far, available now in hardback and due out from Picador in paperback June 27, we find out what happens when we yield to life’s despiritualized strangeness in the twenty-first century’s overweening atmosphere of hogwild commercialism and ideological rigidity. (His first novel, The Outer Cape (Henry Holt & Co), will debut in hardback on the same date.) Dacey seems to be an interesting character himself in this regard, a bespoke and downtrodden seeker of his own soul adrift in corporatized America. The descriptions he’s given in interviews of a difficult youth ...
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A GREATER MUSIC, a novel by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith and reviewed by Justin Goodman

A GREATER MUSIC, a novel by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith and reviewed by Justin Goodman

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
Bae Suah’s newest English-translated work, A Greater Music, describes the Austrian composer Franz Schubert as “a short, fat, shy myopic.” As brutal as this description is of a man who unhappily died before his 32nd year, it seems altogether different in tone when used to describe Bae’s novel itself. Filled with observatory indifference and an almost disembodied airiness, the novel comes across particularly as commentary, and as particularly rebellious. But what’s striking about A Greater Music is that it treats the work of Schubert above the man, treats the novel above the social, giving grandeur to otherwise short, fat, shy ...
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HUMAN ACTS, a novel by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith, reviewed by William Morris

HUMAN ACTS, a novel by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith, reviewed by William Morris

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
First published in South Korea in 2014, Han Kang’s new novel Human Acts is now available for the first time in the United States. American readers first encountered Kang in 2016, with the translation of her 2007 novel The Vegetarian. This strange, dark, poetic novel, about a woman who decides to stop eating meat after having a horrific nightmare, was met with great acclaim. Translated by Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian went on to win the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. While Human Acts is a rich, powerful novel in its own right, and should be read independently of The Vegetarian, ...
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YEAR OF THE RAT, a novel by Marc Anthony Richardson, reviewed by Matthew Jakubowski

YEAR OF THE RAT, a novel by Marc Anthony Richardson, reviewed by Matthew Jakubowski

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Marc Anthony Richardson is an artist from Philadelphia and this compact book, his first, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovation Fiction, makes for a fine addition to the recent history of experimental prose by writers with ties to Philadelphia—from the late Fran Ross (whose 1974 novel, Oreo, was recently re-issued) to contemporaries like Samuel R. Delany, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Hilary Plum, Caren Beilin, and the West Philadelphia sci-fi collective Metropolarity ...
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THESE ARE THE NAMES, a novel by Tommy Wieringa reviewed by Robert Sorrell

THESE ARE THE NAMES, a novel by Tommy Wieringa reviewed by Robert Sorrell

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
The hero–or perhaps I should say anti-hero–of Dutch author Tommy Wieringa’s new novel, These Are the Names is a 53-year-old police chief named Pontus Beg. Beg lives in a fictional border town called Michailopol, a city ailing in post-Soviet corruption and aimless malaise. Beg has “set up his life as a barrier against pain and discomfort,” Wieringa writes. “Suppressing chaos: washing dishes, maintaining order. What did it matter that one day looked so much like the other that he could not recall a single one; he keeps to the middle equidistant from both bottom and top.” ...
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AND WIND WILL WASH AWAY, a novel by Jordan A. Rothacker, reviewed by William Morris

AND WIND WILL WASH AWAY, a novel by Jordan A. Rothacker, reviewed by William Morris

fiction reviews, reviews /
Detective Jonathan Wind is not a wisecracking, hardboiled investigator in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, or a hyper-observant sleuth like Sherlock Holmes. Rather, Wind uses his almost encyclopedic knowledge to investigate crimes for the Atlanta Police Department. When he’s not on a case, the protagonist of Jordan A. Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away splits his time between Monica, his devout Catholic girlfriend, and his secret mistress, Flora, a goddess-worshipping sex worker ...
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THE TOPLESS WIDOW OF HERKIMER STREET, stories by Jacob M. Appel, reviewed by Odette Moolten

THE TOPLESS WIDOW OF HERKIMER STREET, stories by Jacob M. Appel, reviewed by Odette Moolten

fiction reviews, reviews /
The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, winner of the 2016 Howling Bird Press fiction prize, is an honest, funny, and sometimes un-apologetically dark collection of short stories.. Its author, Jacob M. Appel (Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets (2015), The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012)) can easily be described as a modern renaissance man: in addition to his writing, he is also a bioethicist, attorney, and a physician. These professional fields come into play in many of the stories included in this collection, often to highlight or expose ethical conflicts his characters must face ...
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THE YOUNG BRIDE, a novel by Alessandro Baricco, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

THE YOUNG BRIDE, a novel by Alessandro Baricco, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
The author of the novel, Alessandro Baricco, a popular Italian writer, director and performer, suggests that a world based around logic and sense ultimately will stifle us. It is in fact, what the narrator of the main story, the “author” (easy to conflate with Baricco, though we shouldn’t), desires to escape from. He does so by running to fantasy: a place gleefully empty of logic or sense. However this is not to suggest that it is a place of chaos or anarchy—in fact quite the opposite. Fantasy rather offers refuge from the chaos of everyday life through its own simple ...
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COBALT BLUE, a novel by Sachin Kundalkar, reviewed by Nokware Knight

COBALT BLUE, a novel by Sachin Kundalkar, reviewed by Nokware Knight

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
Tanay is a young, closeted queer man trying to work through an internal rut by living for the company of and validation from others. As Tanay befriends an out-of-towner renting a room in his family’s home, he finds himself in awe of the Guest’s ability to thrive in solitude, to fully embrace his mood of the moment, to being in a class of “men who lived their own idiosyncrasies” (the house guest is unnamed in the novel, but for the sake of clarity in this review I call him the Guest). It’s enough to gradually wrestle Tanay out of his ...
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