It’s not bragging if it’s fact: Few novels surprise me. This is not because I’m a genre writer, but because I’m a genre reader, sampling broadly — crime, horror, romance, speculative, dystopian and, more often than not, literary fiction. (Yes, honey, you’re a genre too.) When I teach creative writing, I ask my students to experiment with their television remote controls. Mute the sound and scan the channels, landing on a film or television show heretofore unknown to you. Normally, it takes only seconds to identify, by shot composition alone, whether we are watching a comedy or a drama, a soap opera or a police procedural. We have intuited each world’s rules even if we’ve never articulated them.Read the whole review here.
But Lydia Millet’s “Sweet Lamb of Heaven” confounded me, delightfully so. After serving as a judge for the 2015 National Book Awards’ fiction category, I have little patience with literary novels that claim to have the propulsive momentum of a thriller, yet Millet pulls it off. About 80 pages in, I scrawled on the title page: I don’t know where I’m going. Then, a few pages later: How do we leave ourselves behind when we read? The main character’s well-earned paranoia infected me; I felt as if Millet had mined my metadata: mom, concerned citizen, conspiracy skeptic, overwhelmed social media user. But I also sensed that Millet was asking me to transcend my own narrow interests, to open my mind to the possibility of a world I had not — possibly could not — imagine.