Crooning in tune with the ear and with life, Murray’s saga vamps, dancing, to a glorious end.


Murray writes jazz: A colorful riff on coming of age in the city.

In the final installment of his four-part bildungsroman, octogenarian Murray (Trainwhistle Guitar, 1976, The Spyglass Tree, 1991, The Seven League Boots, 1996) revisits his semiautobiographical character Scooter for an exuberant intellectual romp around the streets of 1930s New York. After a few years on the road playing bass with the legendary Bossman, the brilliant, wandering Scooter arrives in New York to pursue a master’s in the humanities—and meets up with old friends. Beyond the reaches of campus, the streets and studios of New York offer an ongoing moveable feast of ideas. Scooter reconnects with Taft Edison, a Ralph Ellison–like writer working to bring the down-home idiom into his ever expanding novel; Royal Highness, a magnanimous big man from the band days, and Roland Beasely, a vibrant, imaginative painter. As Scooter and compatriots duck in and out of bars, art galleries and jazz clubs discussing French poetry, soul food and cubist art, Scooter seems to be always on the verge of finding the magic keys to his own inner music, to art, to literature and perhaps to life itself. If the book is salted with Taft’s discussions about how to bring the black idiom into the novel, Murray seems to have found his own inimitable solution: for page after page, the prose rocks, croons and sings. When it sometimes seems that nothing is happening, the jaunty swinging language it’s not happening in propels the ear forward nonetheless. As Murray writes, “describing . . how the sounds are made is elementary for musicians themselves, but all of that is only a matter of craft. But when my band plays something I want the craft to add up to what good music is supposed to do for people who come to hear it and dance. . . .”

Crooning in tune with the ear and with life, Murray’s saga vamps, dancing, to a glorious end.

Pub Date: May 17, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-42353-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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

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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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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