Moving, absorbing and engaging: first-rate fiction that will appeal to the literary-minded as well as those in search of...

THE LAST DAYS OF DOGTOWN

A dying Massachusetts town in the early decades of the 19th century forms the evocative backdrop for a richly imagined cast of characters.

Indeed, Diamant (The Red Tent, 1997, etc.) throws almost too many people at us simultaneously in the opening chapter. Seventeen characters are introduced in considerable detail at the 1814 wake for one of the few remaining men in the “collection of broken huts and hovels” derisively called Dogtown by its more prosperous neighbors on Cape Ann. The women who gather to bid farewell to Abraham Wharf include mysterious Black Ruth, an African who dresses in men’s clothes; wizened Easter Carter, who keeps a meager tavern in her home; vicious Tammy Younger, reputed to be a witch; a trio of bedraggled prostitutes; and warmhearted Judy Rhines, who will stand at the novel’s emotional center. The only living man present is brutal John Stanwood; two boys there, Sammy Stanley and Oliver Young, will find very different paths for themselves over the next 20 years. Diamant quickly and obliquely sketches complex relationships among characters we have just met, which may be initially confusing or even annoying to some readers. But as the narrative pulls back to reveal various individuals’ pasts, she skillfully elicits sympathy for many of these hard-pressed people and makes even the nastiest of them creepily fascinating. All of Dogtown’s residents have suffered blows from a brutal society, or fate’s random workings, or both. The saddest story is the deep, thwarted love of Judy and Cornelius Finson, a free African who happily shared her bed for a few years until warned off by a local racist. They long for each other as they pursue separate destinies and as Dogtown grows poorer and shabbier. Anyone who can leaves, but only Oliver finds a happy marriage and children. One by one, the inhabitants die off, and Diamant does not spare us the grim details. This is a deeply satisfying novel, populated by people we care about, delineated in spare, elegant prose.

Moving, absorbing and engaging: first-rate fiction that will appeal to the literary-minded as well as those in search of just a plain-old good read.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2573-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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