Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

#NBCCLeonard Picks #1: Elizabeth Rosner on Kim Brooks’ The Houseguest

by Elizabeth Rosner | Sep-28-2016

In November, National Book Critics Circle members will begin nominating and voting for the fourth John Leonard award for first book in any genre. In the run-up to the first round of voting, we'll be posting a series of blog essays on promising first books.  First up: NBCC member Elizabeth Rosner on Kim Brooks' 'The Houseguest' (Counterpoint, April 2016).

For those among us who have been swimming in the dark sea of post-Holocaust literature for decades (that would include my entire life, as a daughter of two survivors), it can be challenging to consider how much more can be written on the subject, even as we don’t dare suggest that the conversation might ever be truly over. It takes a brave, intelligent, and nuanced writer like Kim Brooks to turn this question upside down, as she does in her exquisitely powerful debut novel, “The Houseguest.”

In exploring the American view of Nazi-drenched Europe, especially the spectrum of moods among Jewish-Americans during the early 1940s, Brooks reminds us that the murky territory of moral behavior on the so-called margins of war is not only historical but also essentially modern. In 1941, news of concentration camps, ghettoes and mass murder still wasn’t quite adequate to inspire urgent intervention, especially when some communities as well as leadership in the U.S. were profoundly conflicted about what “strategy” would do the most “good” for their European friends and relatives.

American readers are likely to find themselves haunted by parallels to the current “refugee crisis” in Europe, when we are yet again just far enough removed from the daily struggle to survive, and when we have the luxury to debate our options rather than face excruciating consequences.

In these harrowing and beautiful pages, Brooks, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, uses an intricately drawn cast of characters, including a seductive refugee named Ana Beidler, to depict the ambiguities of taking as well as delaying action. By the time we reach the transcendent closing pages of “The Houseguest,” we realize that a certain consolation may be possible for the living, but it’s never quite enough to compensate for the numberless dead. 

Critical Notes: Ann Patchett, Nicholson Baker, Affinity Konar, Jonathan Safran Foer, and more

by Carmela Ciuraru | Sep-18-2016

Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items, including news about recent publications and honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. (Current members only.) Please send links that do not require a subscription or a username and password.

 

Gerald Bartell reviews "The Accidental Life" by Terry McDonell for the San Francisco Chronicle.

NBCC Board Member Jane Ciabattari's latest columns for BBC Culture ("Ten Books You Should Read This September") and Lit Hub ("5 Books Making News This Week").

Steven G. Kellman reviews Affinity Konar's "Mischling" for the Dallas Morning News, and "Here I Am," by Jonathan Safran Foer, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

NBCC board president (and Newsday books editor) Tom Beer reviews Ann Patchett’s "Commonwealth" for Newsday.

"The Idea of Ancestry," the first installment of NBCC Board Member David Biespiel's "21 Poems That Shaped America" series, appeared in The Rumpus.

Michael Leong reviews Alejandro Zambra’s "Multiple Choice" (Penguin Books) and Matías Celedón’s "The Subsidiary" (Melville House) for Hyperallergic

Joe Peschel reviews "Substitute" by Nicholson Baker for the News & Observer.

Former NBCC Board Member Mark Athitakis reviews "The Nix" by Nathan Hill for the Star-Tribune.

Kerri Arsenault interviews editor Nan Talese: “Interview with a Gatekeeper” for Lit Hub.

NBCC Board Member Carmela Ciuraru reviews Imbolo Mbue, Lisa McInerney and more in her latest "Newly Released" column for the New York Times.

Former NBCC Board Member David Ulin's "Southern California, End of the Line," on Gregory Halpern’s new photo book, “Zzyzx,” appeared in the New Yorker.

Michael Magras reviews Robert Olen Butler's "Perfume River" for BookPage, and Jonathan Safran Foer's "Here I Am" for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviews Ann Patchett's "Commonwealth" for the Kansas City Star.

NBCC Board Member (and books editor of the Star-Tribune) Laurie Hertzel interviews Elizabeth Alexander. Hertzel's essay on how she learned to read also appeared in the Star-Tribune, as did her reviews of “Counting the Days While My Mind Disappears,” by Ben Utecht and “Tell Me Exactly What Happened,” by Caroline Burau

Become a Friend of the NBCC




NBCC Awards

See all award winners

Find out how to submit

Read how we select

Frequently Asked Questions

Awards news


Videos and Podcasts

NBCC 2015 Awards Ceremony

NBCC 2015 Finalists Reading

NBCC 2014 Awards Ceremony

NBCC 2013 Awards Ceremony

NBCC 2013 Finalists Reading

Video: New Literary Journals

Video: The VIDA Count and Gender Bias in Book Reviewing

Podcast: What Is Criticism? NBCC Winners and Finalists at AWP

All videos and podcasts.




SIGN UP FOR CRITICAL NOTES

More from the Critical Mass blog

Critical Notes: Ann Patchett, Nicholson Baker, Affinity Konar, Jonathan Safran Foer, and more

Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items, including news about recent publications and honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. (Current members

Reminder: Sign up for #NBCCLeonard Award Committee, Blog Series

Calling all voting members of the National Book Critics Circle. This fall you'll be nominating books for the fourth year of our #NBCCLeonard award

Critical Notes: Colson Whitehead, William Giraldi and Patient H.M.

Board member Colette Bancroft reviews Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad for the Tampa Bay Times. Mike Lindgren reviews William Giraldi’s The

Critical Notes: Jacqueline Woodson, Colson Whitehead, Jessica Valenti, and more

Newsday books editor and NBCC board president Tom Beer interviews Jacqueline Woodson about Another Brooklyn, her new novel for adults. For her weekly