Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

The premise of Piranesi is that an unreliable narrator (Piranesi) is wandering a maze to help “the Other” find secret knowledge. It’s written as a series of journal entries and before long I knew more than the narrator—not necessarily a problem—but this reveals something about his selective memory: Piranesi forgets whatever might make the book shorter or less mysterious. Once he catches up to the reader, conflicts are resolved quickly and it’s hard to understand why the set-up went on for so very, very long. read more

Review: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay is funny, but not as funny as advertised. The titular aunt was a child bride at age seven, and widowed by twelve, so that’s hardly the foundation of a laugh riot. What redeems this book is that its characters, primarily Somlata, are charming and the overall plot is optimistic. While the women’s voices sound strange at times, I can’t tell whether that’s attributable to a male author, translation issues, or cultural differences. read more

Review: Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser

As much as I dislike Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, I’m second guessing that opinion as I flip through my notes. So many quotes are lovely and the story sounds good when summarized . . .

Martin Dressler rises through the hospitality business in the late 1800s through a combination of work ethic and happy timing. The first 250 pages are rosy and predictable as potential obstacles are overcome by his natural virtues. The only question in Martin’s life is which of two sisters he’ll marry: Caroline, beautiful and lethargic, or Emmeline, his eventual business partner. He picks Caroline, even though she’s too tired to open her eyes all the way. Drama ensues. read more

Review: Cardiff, by the Sea by Joyce Carol Oates

Each novella in this collection by Joyce Carol Oates is well crafted. While all four stories have elements that initially seem a little unreal, or a little trippy, the threats faced by the narrators are very real. At no point is the safety of any of these women guaranteed, which means the “suspense” touted on the cover is more like a sense of crawling dread. These stories fit well together, taking different angles on a similar theme. read more

Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

I read Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road when it was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Based on Tyler’s other books, I thought it might be shortlisted, but it wasn’t. At this point, I’m not sure why it was on the longlist. It’s not bad, but it’s not in line with Tyler’s other (better) books. Tyler excels at depicting quiet moments in the lives of “normal” people, but this book risks being too quiet. I forgot about it within a few days of reading. read more