French does many things very, very well in Broken Harbor. The writing, for one. Just as any shot of liquor could get me drunk, any well-plotted mystery novel could probably keep me turning its pages. It’s the beauty of Tana French’s prose, however — lines like, “Interesting fact from the front lines: raw grief smells like ripped leaves and splintered branches, a jagged green shriek,” and, “darker than the inside of bone” — that makes me enjoy turning those pages. A Tana French mystery is like a fancy cocktail: sure, the alcohol alone could do the trick, but it’s how the liquor interacts with the homemade ginger beer, or the muddled local strawberries, that make me feel closer to God.
The detectives we meet in Tana French’s novels, those who guzzle watered down coffee after an all-night stake-out, who toss suspects into one of their intentionally-uncomfortable interview rooms, who like to say Jaysus as they snap on their latex gloves, are smart but haunted creatures. They can solve crimes, but they can’t solve themselves.
—Edan Lepucki on Tana French’s Broken Harbor
there is little warm-up period when you enter each of these stories. You are there, on the underside of a character’s skin, in her mind, behind his sightline, swimming pacifically in the underwaterness of their emotions, somehow muted and color-sharp at once. If there is something that ties these stories together, it is not so heady as a theme, like “the existential state of aloneness.” It is more that loneliness envelops the world of each story like a living, moving thing, and in the opening sentences, a kind of emotional atmosphere opens up, like a tiny mouth, where the reader enters, slips in quietly, whereupon the mouth closes, seals the reader in. If this description strikes you as sexual, then it’s not far off; these stories want all of you, mind and body and soul, like a consummation.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live. That line, which opens Didion’s essay ‘The White Album,’ may very well serve as the epigraph for every story in Claire Vaye Watkins’ collection.”
“Yes, always someone turns up you never dreamt of; and sometimes just as quickly he vanishes, remaining a ghost, a mystery. Literature has always been fascinated with these uncanny entrances and exits, the comings and goings that in life are so commonplace, but that, on the printed page, we often imbue with such significance.”
The point is found in the book’s language. The language, what Knausgaard calls the “banality of the everyday,” complements the microscopic scrutiny under which Knausgaard puts his life. He will spend a paragraph describing a fly’s movement, and then spend three paragraphs describing a shirt his father wore, and then at some point, write something brilliant about the nature of love. In the tradition of St. Augustine’s Confessions andDostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground, Knausgaard has fashioned a book that contains an immersive world that begins to feel more real than reality. When the reader enters that world, she accepts an invitation to tour every detail of Knausgaard’s life.
Strayed finds the worm buried at the bottom of a pile of dirt, pulls it out like a thread, and slices it open. The innards of the innards: that’s where she starts. As Sugar puts it, “This is where we must dig.
“One of Strayed’s most vital messages — which her revelations of past lapses are meant to show — is that being a real, whole person means being imperfect. Sugar models this not only in her history, but in her letters, too. Once in a while, she doesn’t offer the empathy we so seek. She falters.” - Jessica Gross reviews Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of advice columns from Cheryl Strayed