Staff Picks

February 12, 2014

Plotted in Technicolor: On Mark Haskell Smith’s Raw 0

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One particular image from Baked by Mark Haskell Smith persists in my memory. There is bondage involved. And testicle shaving. It was with this in mind that I began Smith’s new novel, Raw: A Love Story. I hoped to find that same ribald humor, not to mention a few delightful plot twists. I wasn’t disappointed.

July 24, 2013

Lost Worlds: On Stephanie Vaughn’s Sweet Talk 2

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There is ambivalence toward authority throughout Sweet Talk, something more than the usual coming-of-age disillusionment, as Gemma confronts the dark side of military culture. It’s an ambivalence that feels especially relevant now, as Americans look back on a decade of war overseas.

June 24, 2013

“The Locked Room of Himself”: On Colm Tóibín’s The Master 9

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I have never cared so much about a character I liked so little.

May 28, 2013

Video Games Are a Metaphor for Life: Austin Grossman’s You 4

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I like listening to people talk about video games. Not those conversations about who scored a sick no-scope head shot, or which character’s passive ability allows them to farm the most efficiently, mind you, but about why video games can be meaningful and why they matter.

April 15, 2013

James Ross’s They Don’t Dance Much Returns From the Grave. Again. 3

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Read this dark dirty lovely country-noir masterpiece already.

April 2, 2013

Staff Pick: Terese Svoboda’s Tin God 0

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There’s a feeling, reading this book, of encountering something that hasn’t been done before. It seems to me that Terese Svoboda is a true original.

March 26, 2013

Staff Pick: Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds 1

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When Terry Tempest Williams’s mother was dying, she told her daughter that she was leaving her journals to her, with one condition — that Williams wait until after her death to read them. Williams honored her mother’s wish and when she finally opened the journals she was shocked to find that every one of them was blank. When Women Were Birds is a memoir that explores this extraordinary gesture.

March 8, 2013

Staff Picks: Tell Me A Riddle 3

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“I Stand Here Ironing” is a story about a working mother, but to call it that — even to call it the best story ever written about a working mother — feels reductive. Work-life balance may now be the stuff of Atlantic cover stories and Lean In, but in 1961, exploring it in fiction was a downright radical act.

February 28, 2013

What We Talk about When We Talk about Crying: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars 10

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When we talk about The Fault in Our Stars, we go straight to the unspeakable sadness, out of all the emotions evoked, because we want to convey the incredible emotional resonance of the book. What we’re trying to say is: this book mattered deeply to me, I think it could matter deeply to you too.

February 27, 2013

Love in the Bottom Rung: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Hanged Himself 0

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The characters have nothing to hope for but love, the one resource that can’t be rationed. The most depressing love affairs — emotionless, unrequited, exploitative — shine with promise in these settings.