7 Most-Favorable Reviews in March 2020

  • April 4, 2020

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

7 Most-Favorable Reviews in March 2020

The Night Watchman: A Novel by Louise Erdrich (Harper). Reviewed by Ellen Prentiss Campbell. “Through the eyes of diverse members of the community at this critical moment — a moment which illustrates and threatens to exacerbate past exploitation — Erdrich crafts another volume in her chronicle of the extended family of the Chippewa tribe. The author’s narrative voice has been compared to Steinbeck. Taking into account her entire body of work, the comparison seems apt. Here, The Grapes of Wrath comes particularly to mind as The Night Watchman is a resonant saga of Thomas’ family and friends, representatives of the marginalized, vulnerable community.”

Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King (Grove Press). Reviewed by Samantha Rajaram. “King is a master of crafting beautiful details with economy and wit. In her acclaimed Euphoria, she used antiquated phrases and idioms to breathe life into 1930s-era characters. Though Writers & Lovers is set in contemporary Boston, a decidedly less far-flung location than the New Guinea of that previous novel, King lavishes the same attention on her world-building. Describing a soiree, King writes, ‘the air smells like a cocktail party from the seventies, aftershave and martini onions.’ Later, the author demonstrates how the loss of Casey’s mother invades even mundane moments, such as when Casey opens her apartment door following a date: ‘The bolt retracts, and I remember she died.’”

Half Broke: A Memoir by Ginger Gaffney (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Gretchen Lida. “Gaffney’s home is only a 45-minute drive from Taos, which is famous for its high-end boutiques and prevalence of Hollywood stars’ second homes. Yet the author notes that poverty and despair plague her state. There is more than one New Mexico, just as there is more than one horse experience and more than one America. Which one you live in often depends on what you have in your pockets. The healing power of horses is not a new concept. It’s been explored across art forms. But narratives featuring equine therapy programs for veterans, autistic children, and others can often feel too sweet or tidy. This isn’t the case with Half Broke. The healing here is hard-won, subtle, and small. And that makes it all the more miraculous.”

The Mountains Sing: A Novel by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (Algonquin Books). Reviewed by Tom Glenn. “The story Quế Mai tells is familiar territory for me. But the positive outlook surprised me, given the suffering of the characters during years of disaster and war. Once again, I was impressed with the toughness of the Vietnamese. They face profound adversity with a stalwart steadiness unmatched by any other nation I know of. I came away at the end of the book with a new appreciation for the courage and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese.”

Deacon King Kong: A Novel by James McBride (Riverhead Books). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “This is a beautiful, moving story, complex, layered, evocative, and often funny, as its near-Dickensian array of characters deals with the shooting’s aftermath. They range through all the predictable responses to the unexpected act: relief, joy, fear of reprisal, plus the impulse to protect the projects’ harmless champion from drug criminals and police alike. The author tells this tale with an acute ear for the authentic cadences of urban colloquial speech; he never lapses into the language of stereotype. And underlying all the talk in this talk-rich novel are the familiar echoes of Southern evangelism, touchstones of language and culture for the projects’ black residents.”

The Glass Hotel: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf). Reviewed by Robert Allen Papinchak. “The events of the novel occur between 1995 and 2018. But it’s spring 2005 when the fated trio meet for the first time at the ‘undeniably beautiful but geographically inconvenient’ and eerie Hotel Caiette. Vincent is the bartender on duty; Paul is the night houseman; and Alkaitis is checking up on his investment. Mandel threads their lives and their stories into a breathtaking narrative that shuttles forward and backward in time and bounces geographically from the fog-bound wilderness of the Canadian Northwest, to Manhattan’s corporate monuments, to a South Carolina prison, and to the source of grief and fear on a container ship off the coast of Mauritania.”

The Interpreter: A Novel by A.J. Sidransky (Black Opal Books). Reviewed by Philip K. Jason. “Kurt, because of his superb language skills, is assigned as an interpreter for this project. Colonel McClain is the head of his task group. The selected prisoner, no doubt one of many, is Joachim von Hauptmann, an unrepentant, Jew-hating Nazi who seeks to make a deal. He has information as his bargaining chip. There are other members of the Army interviewing team, notably Captain Rosenthaller, a fellow Jew, whose neutral responses to von Hauptmann are puzzling and hurtful to Kurt. Unlike his young interpreter, Rosenthaller does not seem bothered by the prisoner’s outspoken loathing of Jews. Kurt is nauseated by what he hears.”

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