The opening story of Alice Munro’s rich new collection, The View from Castle Rock, glancingly refers to the talent of her ancestor, Scottish author James Hogg, for “embroidering” factual histories:  i.e., he was known to practice “some canny lying of the sort you can depend upon a writer to do.”  Munro’s own homespun genius for transforming received material into imaginative projections of how we’ve lived (and might have lived) has produced ten lavishly praised collections and an early novel-in-stories, and earned her a reputation as both the best short story writer on our continent and her country’s probable first Nobel laureate.

            In addition to The View from Castle Rock, which speculates (or, if you will, “lies”) about the lives of Munro’s Scottish ancestors as prelude to a compact fictional semi-autobiography, Munro’s matchless work is represented this fall by Carried Away, a gathering of 17 previously published stories.  The tales in Carried Away display a broad range of subject matter, emotional experience and rhetorical effects, though the settings only rarely stray beyond Munro’s native rural Ontario.             Among the best:  unsparing portrayals of the combative relationship between young protagonist Rose and her impulsive mother Flo (“Royal Beatings,” “The Beggar Maid”); a crisply imagined mystery about a country wife who may have murdered her abusive husband (“A Wilderness Station”); the intricate account of a vulnerable nursing home patient protected and exploited by her frustrated husband (“The Bear Came Over the Mountain”); and the great title story, in which a timid librarian’s life from youth through marriage and middle age is dominated by fantasies of the young soldier who possessed her imagination through all the years when they never met.             The View from Castle Rock echoes these earlier works in its concluding half (“Home”), which presents an episodic biography of its unnamed narrator, from her Ontario girlhood through first intimations of romance (“Lying Under the Apple Tree”), maturity and marriage, the aging and deaths of loved ones and confirmation of her own mortality.  But the book’s great achievements are the five long stories that trace the harsh lives of her Scots ancestors (the Laidlaws) in a bleak land offering “No Advantages,” their emigration to North America, what and how they endured and what, so far as their descendant can piece together and imagine, became of them.             This book within a book eloquently memorializes our common past and the manner in which it formed us and continues to shape our destinies.  Alice Munro has honored the world of her fathers and mothers in an echo of the promise made to the medieval Everyman:  “I will go with thee and be thy guide.”  In the last century, we have had no better guide than this indispensable author.


Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-4282-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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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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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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