David L. Ulin at the LA Times:
It's tempting to frame Anya Ulinich's “Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel” in terms of its antecedents: Bernard Malamud and Anton Chekhov, on the one hand, both of whom are referenced in the narrative, and on the other, graphic novelists such as Marjane Satrapi and Harvey Pekar, whose work is rich, allusive and (perhaps most important) alive with words.
What's more accurate, however, is that “Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel” has no antecedents, that it transcends its influences so thoroughly it creates a form, a language, all its own. Ulinich wrote a previous (nongraphic) novel, 2007's “Petropolis,” which tells the story of a Russian mail-order bride named Sasha Goldberg, who ends up in Brooklyn by way of Arizona. Something of a similar set of migrations is at play here, but don't let that mislead you: This new book is a departure in nearly every way.
Most obvious, of course, is its status as a graphic novel, the interplay of words and images through which so much of the narrative unfolds. Ulinich has an MFA in painting from the University of California and has done her share of portrait work and illustration, but this is a different order of magnitude.