Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in March 2024

  • April 1, 2024

We came, we read, we gushed. Here’s a recap of the titles that left us especially warm and swoony last month.

Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in March 2024

Trondheim: A Novel by Cormac James (Bellevue Literary Press). Reviewed by Marcie Geffner. “Once they reach the hospital, though, the story expands and deepens into a delicate spiral of rising and falling tension as the mothers wait, hope, suffer, falter, cope, and then repeat the pattern. The setting and circumstances may seem ordinary, but there’s much more going on here than a mundane — if dreadfully awful — medical emergency. That opening-sentence suggestion aside, will Pierre, in fact, emerge from his coma? And will Lil and Alba’s marriage survive whatever comes? Trondheim allows readers to make the prognosis. Whatever it might be, James’ elegant novel will leave them shattered and uplifted.”

Reading Genesis by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Joel Looper. “From another writer, one might then expect metaphysical proofs, old-sounding talk of predestination, or Leibnizian claims that this is the best of all possible worlds. Robinson offers none of these things. Instead, she watches as the characters of the Bible develop in all their weird, human complexity and as God works to bring humanity toward ends that, from the perspective of the characters themselves, are utterly inscrutable. Confidence of the sort Alexander Pope had when he wrote in An Essay on Man that ‘whatever is, is right’ has no place in Reading Genesis. But providence most certainly does. It comes onstage surreptitiously even as Robinson considers the ways the narrative weaves together each character’s personal tragedies, penchant for violence, utter confusion about God, and faithful endurance. But she never fails to point it out. In fact, she believes, in Genesis, providence is the undercurrent that, in spite of appearances, determines the direction of the whole narrative river.”

It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me: A Memoir by Rex Chapman with Seth Davis (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Gretchen Lida. “Basketball legend Rex Chapman was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a University of Kentucky freshman and played in the NBA against Michael Jordan. Now, with his career on the court 20 years behind him, he’s a podcaster and a significant voice in the sports world. He’s also the author of a new memoir, It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me. Despite being an avid reader of memoirs, I’m not exactly Chapman’s target audience. I have never watched an entire basketball game, and I’m leery of celebrity memoirs in general, as they often read like glossy, Oscar-worthy speeches and either avoid or ignore the blemishes and human flaws that make the genre worth reading. Yet there’s just one word to describe Chapman’s effort: Riveting.”

A Nasty Little War: The Western Intervention into the Russian Civil War by Anna Reid (Basic Books). Reviewed by Andrew M. Mayer. “Along with chronicling the fighting, Reid demonstrates her superior archival research by masterfully painting a picture of the domestic political realities facing the Western powers at the time. Clemenceau was shot by an anarchist during the 1919 Versailles treaty talks, survived the attack and finished the negotiations, but was later replaced in government. Lloyd George soldiered on in England’s coalition government but encountered opposition in the House of Commons to continuing ‘Churchill’s expedition’ in Russia — especially given Churchill had been blamed for the disastrous Gallipoli landings in World War I. And Wilson, despite returning to America during the peace talks to bolster his Fourteen Points/League of Nations proposal, faced mounting opposition from isolationist Republicans in Congress and also had to deal with the ‘Red Scare’ of 1919.”

Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit: Essays by Aisha Sabatini Sloan (Graywolf Press). Reviewed by Yelizaveta P. Renfro. “At times, the worlds of opera and the streets of Detroit intersect in painful ways. ‘In Jenufa, an opera in three acts, the body of a child is found underneath the ice.’ This one-sentence paragraph is immediately followed by: ‘When this plot played out on my cousin’s watch, counselors were called to talk with the officers involved. My cousin was the only one to speak at the baby’s funeral.’ As Sloan watches her cousin interact with a range of people, she realizes the work requires ‘the capacity to listen and observe more than to bully and corral.’ Sloan creates a sensitive and thoughtful portrait of Detroit, a ‘lament’ that shows her deep love for the place and that refuses easy generalizations.”

The Fox Wife: A Novel by Yangsze Choo (Henry Holt & Company). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Yangsze Choo’s The Fox Wife is a graceful, unassuming novel set in 1908 China in the waning years of that nation’s final imperial dynasty. The story is built around interlocking halves unspooling in alternating chapters, equal parts folktale and mystery. At first, the interlacing in this hybrid saga might seem discordant, its mildly fuzzy folkloric ambiguity at odds with the stark exigencies of investigation and discovery. But here, owing mostly to Choo’s remarkably understated narrative voice, the parallel plots mesh in pleasing yin-yang harmony.”

The Bloodied Nightgown and Other Essays by Joan Acocella (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Patricia Schultheis. “Essentially, The Bloodied Nightgown is a nightstand book. While each of its essays is tightly structured, no central theme unifies the collection. Perhaps that is as it should be. Read one on Wednesday and another on Saturday. Don’t like ‘Waugh Stories’? No problem. Skip ahead to ‘Funny Peculiar.’ What matters is that, in an era when the words ‘artificial’ and ‘intelligence’ are paired without irony, there once existed a writer named Joan Acocella whose life of the mind was as incandescent as it was real.”

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