A book that intends to balance on the fine wire of the exploitative-freak-show trope in order to render a point about...


Born into a family of circus acrobats, Olympia Knife is unique in more ways than one. As she struggles to control her tendency toward literal invisibility, she must also navigate her burgeoning love for the newest star of the circus: Diamond the Danger Eater.

Constantine’s (Sweet, 2016) second novel opens with the midact, midair disappearance of Alban and Julia, the Flying Knifes, as their young daughter watches from the trapeze platform. Olympia has been raised in the tightknit nucleus of the Stephens Great Attraction traveling circus, where her sporadic transparency blends in with the unique gifts of the fabulous Minnie the Fat Lady, Madame Barbue the Bearded Woman, Robin the Rubber Boy, and many others. As the book progresses, she is forced to confront the impermanence of even the closest of these relationships as, one by one, the members of her circus family begin to vanish into the ether. At the same time, Olympia finds herself falling in love with a mysterious newcomer—Diamond, who performs a dashing sword-swallowing act—and transforming her own identity into that of Nova the Half Man. As she struggles to navigate her unfamiliar emotions, her fluctuating visibility, and the unravelling of her livelihood when the circus grinds to a denuded halt, Olympia must thrust herself into the forefront of her life in order to preserve her own place within it. Though there is a tremendous amount happening in this novel, the similarity in the back stories of the characters, as well as a tendency to narrate even the most climactic of injuries, consummations, and murders in the same expository tone, renders the book hazy. The powerful central theme is similarly blurred by inconsistencies in the main characters' development (Olympia is both mousy and bold, Diamond both daring and prone to collapse in indecisive tears) and plot progression issues that find characters spending entire chapters rising from bed only to sink back into the same bed, exhausted, without much happening in between.

A book that intends to balance on the fine wire of the exploitative-freak-show trope in order to render a point about inclusion and identity but succeeds instead in crafting a series of more-or-less familiar freak-show character sketches.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-945053-27-6

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Interlude Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 17

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?