Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison My rating: 5 of 5 stars In her memorial remembrance of her late friend Toni Morrison, Fran Lebowitz observed that "Toni would always take into account the problems that the person you were angry at had." She was speaking of how Morrison behaved as a friend, but a great … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Jayinee Basu, The City of Folding Faces

The City of Folding Faces by Jayinee Basu My rating: 4 of 5 stars A phenomenology of contemporary reading: Oscar Wilde said that only shallow people do not judge by appearances. In the library I plucked a strange little book from the "new" shelf. It's glossy, white, and almost hand-sized. It has a strange bluish, … Continue reading Jayinee Basu, The City of Folding Faces

Renata Adler, Speedboat

Speedboat by Renata Adler My rating: 4 of 5 stars Almost every member of American literature's last unambiguously major generation, the giants passing from the scene, was born in the 1930s: Carver (b. 1938), DeLillo (b. 1936), Didion (b. 1934), McCarthy (b. 1933), Morrison (b. 1931), Oates (b. 1938), Pynchon (b. 1937), Roth (b. 1933), … Continue reading Renata Adler, Speedboat

Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli My rating: 4 of 5 stars Intellectuals played at crusaders and revolutionaries only to discover they were still patricians and liberals. [...] "Liberalism" seems a vast, obscure, swampy territory one never emerges from, no matter how one tries—and perhaps one never should. —Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, … Continue reading Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen My rating: 3 of 5 stars The ambition and audacity of this Pulitzer-prize-winning 2015 novel can't be denied. Synthesizing postcolonial theory with the tradition of the Great American Novel, Nguyen retells the story of the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the perspective of—not quite one of its victims, … Continue reading Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain

Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy My rating: 3 of 5 stars Cities of the Plain began life as a screenplay, and it shows. For most of its length, it is bare description and dialogue. While its scene-setting is often concisely vivid and its cowboy conversations laconically witty, it lacks either the lived-in quality … Continue reading Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler My rating: 5 of 5 stars This 1979 classic novel of time travel and slavery could not be published today. Imagine it, imagine Octavia Butler temporally jumped to the present and trying to put out Kindred in the current media climate. Assume, because it's so good, that the novel even finds … Continue reading Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

Anna Burns, Milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns My rating: 5 of 5 stars "I did not like twentieth century books because I did not like the twentieth century," says the narrator of Anna Burns's Milkman, the 2018 winner of the Man Booker prize. In one of the novel's many knowing ironies, the joke is that she inhabits what … Continue reading Anna Burns, Milkman

Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill My rating: 3 of 5 stars This acclaimed 2014 novel of marriage, motherhood, and adultery is a perfect expression of the fictional and even critical style of our time. Five years ago, in homage to James Wood's famous censure of the late 20th century's "hysterical realism," I called this … Continue reading Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday My rating: 3 of 5 stars The jacket copy of this fascinating 2018 debut novel—back cover and both flaps—informs us no less than four times that Lisa Halliday was a recipient of the Whiting Award. This award goes to 10 promising writers each year, and is granted by a jury that … Continue reading Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry