Riveting drama and sensuous prose make for an unforgettable love story.

TROIKA

A stripper unwittingly becomes a sexual surrogate for a wealthy Russian immigrant and his paralyzed wife in Pelzman’s beautifully rendered debut.

Perla is looking for a way out of her dead-end job at a Ft. Lauderdale strip club when she leads Julian Pravdin to the Champagne Room for a private dance. Narrating in the present tense, the pretty Cuban-American is so street-smart that we believe her when she says it’s safe to follow the stranger to the parking lot and, eventually, his hotel. Julian has a soft spot for strippers. Forced into a Siberian orphanage after his father’s death sent his mother on a downward spiral of drug abuse and prostitution, he escaped by drawing on the fighting instincts he inherited from his father, a hunter. Here and elsewhere, Julian’s brutality comes into play, but he never loses the reader's sympathy. He grows up to be a respectable businessman in New York, where he lives with his wife, and though a third-person narrator tells Julian's back story, guarding his thoughts, it’s clear that neither entitlement nor boredom are behind his affair with Perla. His wife, Sophie, is adjusting to a new reality after being paralyzed from the waist down. The initially jarring introduction of this second heroine brings the simmering plot to a boil, revealing it to be a character study in the aftermath of tragedy. Pelzman has a well of sympathy for his characters—the sponge baths Sophie gets from her nurse are every bit as intimate and sensual as the clandestine meetings between Julian and Perla. When the stripper threatens the delicate balance of her marriage, Sophie uses the only weapons she has—her helplessness and ability to elicit pity—to hold on to what’s left of her life. The word troika describes a group of three or a Russian carriage pulled by three horses. With unflinching honesty, the author goes to the source of Julian’s violence, Perla’s emotional detachment and Sophie’s manipulation to show how a third horse could work in a two-horse marriage.

Riveting drama and sensuous prose make for an unforgettable love story.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-16748-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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