“Steinberg shifts backward and forward in time, just as her prose shifts into a kind of poetry. The result is a glittering, knifelike reflection of despair through the eyes of a young woman, made richer by the fact that it’s told in hindsight.”The New Yorker
“Steinberg’s daring experiments with style and perspective make clear that such stock suspense isn’t the point. The narrator’s real quest is to discover whether a soulhers, if it existscan be saved.”The Atlantic
“Steinberg’s beautifully structured sentences and wholly original stylistic decisions give Machine a delicate intricacy that enhances the depth of the plot.”San Francisco Chronicle
“[Steinberg’s] prose is urgent and fluid, propelled by grammatical tension that transforms any odd pair of clauses into a flint and a stonesometimes they grind together in subtle variation, and sometimes they spark into something new. The reader, unsure of which result to expect, is driven to attend to each word as if it might suddenly catch on fire.”The Nation
“The narrative shifts, experimental structure and poetic language in Steinberg’s hypnotic first novel capture the teen years with their shifting emotional tides and heightened awareness of class, gender, self and others.”BBC Culture
“Taut, incantatory sentences, often laid out like poems.”Harper’s
“Stylish and innovative. . . . The semicolon is one of the most sophisticated yet poorly understood pieces of punctuation. . . . A prolific and graceful user of this oft-avoided punctuation mark, Steinberg employs it to lyrical and layered effect.”Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“After making waves with her book Spectacle, bold stylist Susan Steinberg resurfaces with her first novel, a tale of gender, class, privilege and trauma set during a summer at the shore. . . . The narrative grapples with guilt and blame while eschewing formal conventions.”Chicago Tribune
“Susan Steinberg takes everything you loved about her short story collections (Spectacle, anyone?) and brings them to this new tragedy: a hazy summer night in which one girl drowned. The voice of the storysometimes singular, sometimes with other echoeswill guide and haunt you as it tries to make sense of what happened.”Literary Hub
“Steinberg’s writing sinks its teeth in down to the bone and refuses to release.”Chicago Review of Books
“Peril, fury, suspicion, rebellionSteinberg’s craft lies in accumulating these moods and sustaining them. . . . It’s a bold and challenging way to make a book, to trust the reader to sit still for her own impalement. But the risk pays off. Machine embodies a new kind of novel in verse, a creature that’s part stutter and part song, and its stark, strange melody echoes long after its musicians have packed up and gone home.”On the Seawall
“Steinberg writes in small, interconnected, and poetic fragments. . . . Heartbreaking, eerie, and acutely observant.”Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“What makes [Machine] so thrilling is Steinberg’s artistry with form; she fractures narrative into its fundamental parts. Steinberg writes prose with a poet’s sense of meter and line, and a velocity recalling the novels of Joan Didion. The result is a dizzying work that perfectly evokes the feeling of spinning out of control.”Publishers Weekly, starred review
“With simple, lyrical language, Steinberg presents a mystery of privilege and youth that deftly captures the unadulterated gear quaking deep behind a teenager’s invincible front.”Booklist
“Otherworldly, and every-other-line sublime, Machine reads like the text messages Laura Palmer might send back from the Black Lodge. It’s a timely reminder of why our culture remains haunted by dead girls, and of the different ways we find to drown them.”Bennett Sims
“Machine is an astonishment. . . . Another breakthrough for modern fiction.”Sam Lipsyte
“Susan Steinberg is a conventions-defying, form-innovating wizard of a writer, and I already can’t wait to reread her newest book, Machine. Unique, astounding, and terribly and splendidly moving, this novel is a revelation.” R. O. Kwon
Teenagers spend a hazy summer at the shore. One girl comes to terms with both her emerging independence and the mysterious death of a girl just like her.
Steinberg (Spectacle, 2013) writes in small, interconnected, and poetic fragments. She follows one unnamed teenager through a summer of partying that results in the drowning death of another local girl under mysterious circumstances. This is "a story about salvation," she says, "but that doesn't mean this girl was saved; and it doesn't mean that we were saved; or that anyone was, or ever would be; it only means that something, in this moment, needed saving." Through Steinberg's poetic prose and chapters that braid together different timelines from the same summer, we come to learn of the girl's feelings of guilt about her friend's death. The same summer, the girl discovers her parents' shortcomings and begins to fight against the stereotype of the drunken party girl that she sometimes embraces. Steinberg's observations of the delicate workings of interpersonal relationships are astute. Her protagonist says, "What I mean is, girls, there is no love the way you think of love." Love is the mysterious promise that hangs over all the sexual encounters at the shore; adults and teens alike allow the promise of love to draw them away from sensible behavior. Through her reflections on the night of the drowning and her conversations with her family following a shocking discovery about her father, the girl is both discovering her power and the gendered expectations that cage it. She begins to find her own voice, and she questions the culture that allowed her friend to drown—even though she is a complicit participant in that culture. "And that's what happens when you drink," she tells us, parroting the town's gossip. "And that's what happens when you fool around."
Heartbreaking, eerie, and acutely observant.