On Fiction :: Reviews & Criticism

Martin Amis's Lionel Asbo

a review by Zara Raab

Lionel Asbo is a tale of incest, alcoholism, greed, brutality, and vengeance, revealing a seamy world of extortion and murder, vulgarity and besottedness.

issue 22 :: November 2012

Teju Cole's Open City

a review by Thomas Lewek

Not without its flaws, Open City presents a beautiful, ranging narrative of the increasingly interconnected urban and international spaces we inhabit. The voice that animates Open City remains aware of its influences while searching for new ground to explore.

issue 18 :: March 2012

E.L. Doctorow's All the Time in the World

an essay by Daniel Wood

"Doctorow can do better than this, and has done better in the past, which means that this collection is unlikely to satisfy his fans and just as unlikely to compel new readers to read further to see the amazing things he's capable of. His real achievements remain elsewhere — beyond these short stories, and beyond the short story itself."

issue 18 :: March 2012

Scott Esposito on Sergio Chejfec's My Two Worlds

an essay by Scott Esposito

My Two Worlds is a dance, a seduction that draws us right up to the palpable center and then fades away to the margin, drawing one back toward that center before fading into another marginal space — back and forth, round and round. It is that same haze of thought one feels when hovering around an idea that remains unelucidatable.

issue 16 :: November 2011

Matthew Duffus on American Weather
a review by Matthew Duffus

Avoiding simplistic solutions and a satisfying conclusion makes for a bleak read, and in its skewering of our consumer culture, American Weather fits most comfortably in the dark satiric tradition of Swift and Beckett, or more recently of Brett Easton Ellis.

issue 15 :: September 2011

Miri Nakamura on All Her Father’s Guns
an essay by Miri Nakamura

Anyone who has been caught in the crash of the bubble, who has ever been forced to read Lacan, or who can simply laugh at one's own failings, will be cheering Cal on through his gun-waving adventure.

issue 14 :: July 2011

Daniel Green on John Hawkes
an essay by Daniel Green

By both articulating a commitment to ‘experimental fiction’ and putting into practice a coherent conception of what such fiction should do, John Hawkes established himself as perhaps the most important experimental writer in the postwar period, perhaps in all of American literature.

issue 13 :: May 2011

On Introductions and Character in Fiction
an essay by Hilary Plum

Fiction introduces a reader (let’s note her as a real body) to a fictive body (character) via a fictive introducer (narrator); the only other body, the writer’s, has departed the scene. An examination of the differences among Stein’s, Carver’s, and Holland’s methods of naming and embodying characters in these three stories may shed light on all that occurs when narrator, character, and reader encounter one another in a work of fiction.

issue 13 :: May 2011

On the Origins of Moby Dick
an essay by Matthew Stevenson

By some accounts, the first draft of Moby-Dick was a conventional sea story. Hawthorne encouraged him to develop such transcendent themes as obsession, anger, revenge, and lust. ‘Ah, God!’ Melville writes in Moby-Dick, ‘What trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.’ Presumably such passages were missing from the first draft, which was heavy with chapters that read like a textbook on cetology or a history of the whaling industry.”

issue 11 :: January 2011

Luka and the Fire of Life, by Salman Rushdie
an essay by Katherine A. Evans

One gets the sense, in reading Luka’s adventure, that this is really the story of a father, watching his son take on a new kind of adventure, one that reflects back his own penchant for story-telling. Luka is at once his father’s apprentice, and in a totally different world.

issue 11 :: september 2011


Tell-All, by Chuck Plahniuk

a review by April Pierce

Feminist though he man be, Palahniuk’s female narrator is underdeveloped, and his own descriptions of feminine motives are somewhat unbelievable: the ugly girl’s envy, the addiction to a masculine savior, female manipulation and helplessness, are all tired themes, and Palahniuk fails to provide a viable counterpart to these leitmotifs.

issue 11 :: january 2011

The Wallander Mysteries, by Henning Mankell
an essay by Mark Schorr

The themes of Mankell’s fiction remind one strongly of Thomas Mann. Mann detailed the landscape of Europe both anticipating and responding to the Second World War; like Mann’s novels, the Wallander mysteries are au courant — Mankell’s backgrounds range from World Cup soccer to contemporary politics. Recently, Mankell was one of those arrested on a flotilla attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Palestine: it would be no surprise to find that moral landscape in a future book. Its page-turning qualities not withstanding, Mankell’s police procedurals are continually turning up new corners of the broader moral landscapes of modern culture.

issue 9 :: september 2010

Broken Glass, by Alain Mabanckou
a review by Katherine A. Evans

In some ways, Mabanckou’s novel suffers from this cursory coverage of the canon of world literature from Marquez to Joyce to Tzara and Pasternak, but the sampling of authors also reveals the depth and breadth of Mabanckou’s engagement with writers from across the world. Many of the authors he references, even only in passing, are those who have tackled the challenges of constructing a literary national narrative before him.

issue 8 :: july 2010

Three Days After the Shooting, by Ralph Ellison
a review by Katherine A. Evans

In many ways, from a thematic standpoint, Three Days Before the Shooting. . . is perhaps most notable for the ways in which it expands the project begun in Invisible Man, dramatizing the challenges of identity formation and the critiques of the American institution of racism, and emphasizing the centrality of the African-American narrative to the American story.

issue 7 :: may 2010

The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason
a review by Jonathan Wooding

With The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason has created an environment to showcase his extraordinary talent for cleverness; but he also demonstrates that relying on talent makes for a hollow achievement.

issue 6 :: March 2010

The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker
a review by Nora Delaney

Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist is a strange book: part idiosyncratic poetry manual, part disconnected personal narrative. The first line of the novel, if you can comfortably call it that, pulls no punches: “Hello, this is Paul Chowder, and I’m going to try to tell you everything I know.” The reader is thrust involuntarily into a relationship with the infuriating, disarming Chowder for almost 250 pages as he moons over his breakup with Roz — stringer-of-beads and washer-of-dogs-extraordinaire — as well as his inability to write an introduction to a poetry anthology — this latter failure having precipitated Roz’s leaving.

issue 5 :: January 2010

Violence & Evasion: the Novels of Margarita Karapanou
an essay by George Fragopoulos

There is a tireless peripatetic thrust in Karapanou’s novels. They only refrain from becoming essayistic by her use of fragmentary, non-linear narratives. Protagonists and readers alike are never still in her books, never at ease. When reading Karapanou, one is reminded of Pascal's famous aphorism that evil and suffering arise from the simple reason that man cannot remain peacefully at rest within a room.

issue 5 :: January 2010

The Armies, by Evelio Rosero
a review by Scott Esposito

Great art has always played a facilitating role in exactly this way. Even in this era of photographic and cinematic plenty, true art is has a near monopoly on conveying authentic subjective realities that can rarely be related otherwise. This is the tall order that the Columbian novelist Evelio Rosero has set for himself in his 2007 novel, The Armies. Winner of The Independent’s Foreign Fiction award in 2009 and widely lauded in the British press, the book arrives on U.S. shores highly recommended.

issue 4 :: November 2009

Inherent Vice
, by Thomas Pynchon

a review by Salvatore Ruggiero

It’s as if Pynchon is seeking peace through the paranoia — as if Pynchon’s narrator has come to terms with the insanity of the world and can perhaps finally close the book on it. A counterintuitive sense of optimism pervades this novel, as Doc and the reader can make sense of the actions of the characters, the manipulation of corporations, and the psychology of mad dreams.

issue 3 :: September 2009

Desert, by J.M.G. Le Clézio 
a review by Scott Esposito

Though Desert is informed by those turn-of-the-century maladies, colonialism and warfare, it is not about either of these topics in the least. Le Clézio only cares for the lived experience of people caught up in these forces, and he does not dilute their lives with recourse to philosophical or historical abstraction. Thus his panorama is powerful for its sense of humanity massing with religious conviction out of the wide and empty desert, but those who look to fiction for vivid characters and a strong sense of plot might be put off by these first fifty pages.

issue 2 :: july 2009

In the Kitchen, by Monica Ali
a review by Katherine A. Evans

As in her previous work, which differs significantly in its plot and setting but not in its themes, In the Kitchen is an attempt to engage with ideas of self, identity, and agency in a multicultural world. It was her initial exploration of these themes in her debut novel Brick Lane that won her critical acclaim and a three-book deal with Scribner in the first place. But, Monica Ali was almost destined to disappoint.

issue 2 :: july 2009

Wit's End, by Karen Joy Fowler
a review by Alistair Brown

In many ways, the most interesting thing about this book is the fact that its postmodern elements are so unremarkable. I do not mean that Fowler is not capable of writing in an interesting way, but rather that the postmodern has lost any radical edge it once had, becoming essentially normative, so that Fowler, writing a mass-market novel, probably never even realized she was writing in line with its codes. . . .

issue 2 :: july 2009

Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel
a review by April Pierce

Like so many coming of age stories, Last Night in Montreal, the first novel from Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel, attempts to mythologize the life of the wandering hermit. This no-longer-rare breed of personality: the reclusive oddball-runaway renegade, stoic, unbreakable spirit — the Humbert Humbert and the Holden Caulfield — is as ubiquitous in our literary heritage as pastels are around Eastertide. Accordingly, it is essential for any author working in the genre of loner-literature to paint such a figure with idiosyncratic brushstrokes, if only to avoid authorial clichés. Without submerging into the protagonist’s psyche, or even in spite of that submersion, novels of this sort risk becoming tedious catalogues of narcissism. . . .

issue 1 :: may 2009