California Literary Review

Fiction Reviews

Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith

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September 21st, 2012

By calling her newest novel NW, Zadie Smith follows in the tradition of other writers, including Mary Gaskell, George Eliot, and Winifred Holtby, who have named the work after the setting. Like its predecessors, NW is an ensemble novel that explores human nature through a microcosm of the world, a technique that has historically appealed to women writers. Jane Austen famously said her work, containable on a “little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory,” was about “four or five families in a country village.”

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

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September 12th, 2012

Perhaps it’s fair to say that the big accomplishment of Diaz’s new book is that it does what authors have always done, but it does it really well. He explores grand concepts—pain, love, history, and life—through an obsessive devotion to particulars. The violence of colonial history replays itself in the troubled starts and stops of a family struggling for connection and in Yunior’s own search for love.

Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

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September 10th, 2012

The Garden of Evening Mists is set in three inter-linked time frames. Past and present struggle to reconcile Yun Ling’s memories of wartime suffering and loss. But Yun Ling is faced by a cruel dilemma. Soon she will no longer have a future. Her brilliant, sensitive mind is slowly deteriorating from an incurable neurological disease. Oblivion will settle Yun Ling’s efforts to find inner peace if she does not achieve it first.

Book Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

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September 4th, 2012

The feelings and experiences that preoccupy Straub are pregnancy and motherhood, friendship and domestic partnership. The repeated evocation of bodily experience and physical closeness is one of the most marked features of her writing.

Book Review: The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes

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August 29th, 2012

As befits a former poet, Hughes’s writing is economical yet stylish, atmospheric without being fussy. And as with almost any vintage detective novel, there are many pleasures to be had in the details of an earlier America.

Book Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French

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August 15th, 2012

Right out of the gate, French displayed a gift for rich psychological plots, complex characterizations, and evocative prose. With her fourth, Broken Harbor, she continues to mature as a writer and (one hopes) to delight and collect more readers across the English-speaking world.

Book Review: True Believers by Kurt Andersen

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August 13th, 2012

Nevertheless, Andersen’s willingness to digress, to reflect in Karen’s voice on the implications of her experiences and perceptions, to cram in yet another observation, yet another illustration of The Way We Live Now (or The Way We Lived Then), ultimately emerges as the novel’s strength.

Book Review: The Lower River by Paul Theroux

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August 9th, 2012

She cautions him, “They will eat your money,” she said. “When your money is gone, they will eat you.” Soon after, Hock is awakened in the middle of the night to the beat of drums and strange rituals that he sneaks out to watch. The entire village participates in a dance, thinking he is asleep, mocking him as a white man, acting out harming him. Hock is ready to leave, but he is now under constant surveillance in the small village at the end of the world. Nobody knows he is there and no one will help him.

Book Review: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman

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August 8th, 2012

A potential reader sizing up Liza Klausmann’s new novel, Tigers in Red Weather, would do well to pay more attention to the cover art – a vintage photo from the Conde Nast archives showing two models on a beach, their red straw hats and parasols silhouetted against the blue sea – than to the knowledge that Klausmann is Herman Melville’s great-great-great granddaughter and that the title is taken from a Wallace Stevens poem. The book, in the end, is a bit more upscale beach read than Great American Novel.

Book Review: In One Person by John Irving

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July 9th, 2012

And therein shines the beauty of Irving’s tale, who we used to be as a society and who we have become. How these people who dared to feel different about their sexuality were treated, ridiculed, harassed, ignored, suppressed, repressed and in many cases cast aside. But over the five decades that we see Billy, we are shown a society that has grown more informed if not more compassionate; a society that has grown more tolerant if not more accepting and a world that makes place for acknowledging everyone instead of treating them as if they were invisible.

Book Review: Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

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May 24th, 2012

Her measured and elegant style does indeed evoke Austen, and the grace of the writing makes the book all the more chilling. With pitiless clarity, Jenkins limns the process of self-deception by which four people, for the most ordinary of motives, bring themselves to commit murder by deliberate neglect.

Book Review: HHhH by Laurent Binet

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April 25th, 2012

What results, however, is an awkward success story. Unseasonably dedicated to fact and accuracy, positively frightened of omission, Binet has written a tale of Heydrich to defy most academic study. Moreover, Binet has managed to engage.

Book Review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

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March 26th, 2012

Sketching the parameters of Baggott’s palimpsestic narrative is tricky. Briefly put, the backstory of the novel involves a hyperbolic escalation of conservative cultural rhetoric that seeks a return to “traditional” values: restrained, upper-class politeness and hardline gender roles. The maniacal masterminds behind this so-called “Return of Civility” followed a violent effort at social engineering with a wave of nuclear attacks, referred to in the novel as the Detonations.

Book Review: May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy

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March 14th, 2012

Troy’s novel has much to recommend it, including sensitive character delineation and powerful narrative set pieces. But all Civil War fiction is faced with the almost insuperable task of trying to heal wounds that just go on festering, of finding some sort of redemptive meaning for unparalleled carnage. From the first great Civil War novel, John De Forrest’s Miss Ravenel’s Conversion, published in 1867, the problem for the Civil War novelist is to find a middle ground of hope and harmony upon which the survivors can rebuild their battered lives.

Book Review: Odditorium: Stories

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February 27th, 2012

While the collection of eight stories has its highs and lows, Pritchard’s newest book offers an unforgettable tour through the author’s exceptionally rich prose worlds. From the suggestively self-reflective to the evocatively political, The Odditorium immerses the reader in stories woven from a dense and dynamic imagination, exquisitely executed and brilliantly textured.

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