[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Percival’s Planet, by Michael Byers, reviewed by Suzanne Berne (New York Times)
Ms. Berne’s review is mostly plot and character summary, but luckily Byer’s plot and characters are quite interesting. The novel is a work of historical fiction telling the story of a Kansas farm boy who discovered Pluto. Berne’s description–”Mr. Byers reminds us that whether we’re gripped by desire for a new planet or for another human being, that yearning has dignity and its own strange logic”–makes this sound like a maybe-too-literary book, but the characters seem quirky enough that that may not be the case.
A Not Scary Story About Big Scary Things, by C.K. Williams, (Publisher’s Weekly)
PW doesn’t credit their reviews, which are only about 100 words long. It be faster for you just to read this review yourself. (Excerpt: “A boy lives near a ‘regular, ordinary, standard sort of forest,’ except that along with the usual perils of cliffs, bears, snakes, and wolves, there’s also an actual, awful monster with a penchant for scaring children.”) This is a children’s book so 100 words is probably sufficient anyway; I wish I could have found an example of the illustrations on the internet.
The Four Fingers of Death, by Rick Moody, reviewed by Troy Patterson (New York Times)
In what seems to be a work in the tradition of Breakfast of Champions and Pale Fire, Rick Moody’s new novel is told by “a long-winded ham” and “sci-fi horror hack” named Montese Crandall, writing in a dystopian 2025. The Four Fingers of Death is presented as Crandall’s novelization of a 2025 remake of a real B-movie from 1963. When I read Patterson’s decription of Crandall as “a figure far more baffling than an unreliable narrator: an anti-reliable author,” I knew I wanted to read this book.
The Lady Matador’s Hotel, by Cristina Garcia, reviewed by Carolyn Alessio (Chicago Tribune)
Ms. Alessio’s well-written review does a fine job of describing how this novel “captures many of Guatemala’s funny and grim contradictions, and probes their often freighted origins.” The book takes place in an upscale hotel, during a time of political instability. Garcia’s strentgh seems to lie in her characters. The few Alessio deems “cartoonish” she asserts are countered “through her more complex guests at the hotel and use of a clever chorus.”
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (Wall Street Journal)
Franzen’s name (and photo) has been everywhere this week, and Freedom is getting a lot of hype. The Corrections was pretty great, so hopefully this lives up to expectations. The WSJ (in a short article credited to “WSJ Staff”) rounded up a bunch of choice review quotes, so I linked to that. C4 will have its own review in a few weeks.