Philosophically exhaustive yet profoundly human, this book sets itself the task of asking the big questions—What am I? What...

ELEANOR, OR, THE REJECTION OF THE PROGRESS OF LOVE

A sprawling, fragmented novel that studies the paradoxical alienation and immediacy of the digital age as it follows its twinned narrators: the author and her character, Eleanor.

Moschovakis (They and We Will Get into Trouble for This, 2016, etc.) opens her fourth book with a quintessential 21st-century scene: a woman, alone, skimming a report of a senseless act of public violence. This is Eleanor—approaching 40, adrift in her ambition and ambivalent in her love, grappling daily with “the thing that had happened—that she had made happen, or at least not prevented from happening”; literally a character in someone else’s tale. Eleanor is at a crossroads in her life, but instead of being faced with a binary decision (left or right?), she is confronted by the thoroughly modern dilemma of multiplicity. A reader, a thinker, a woman aging out of youth but still as unsettled and provisional as she was in her 20s, Eleanor can imagine herself as almost anyone, but her only stable companion is her own unsatisfactory reflection. In simultaneous, spliced sections, the reader is also introduced to Eleanor’s unnamed author—a similarly aged, similarly situated woman who is exiting a relationship with her lover, Kat, and entering into a thorny intellectual friendship with a famous male critic who has expressed interest in her manuscript. As the author and the critic’s friendship builds, the author’s struggle to maintain control over her revision against the heedless authority of male confidence leads the reader through a nuanced and provocative discourse on the power of identity as a tool of both creation and erasure. Meanwhile, compelled by the catalyst of a stolen laptop and the data it contained, Eleanor leaves New York on the trail of the enigmatic Danny Kamau—petty thief or good Samaritan—in a peripatetic quest that takes her from an Albany hostel to a “cutting-edge eco-squat,” from Addis Ababa to the Rimbaud museum in Harar. As the novel progresses, the author's and Eleanor’s stories intertwine like strands of a double helix—touching only through the laddered bonds of their shared time and place but inextricably connected by the common access of their thought.

Philosophically exhaustive yet profoundly human, this book sets itself the task of asking the big questions—What am I? What was I? What will I be?—in a style that evokes Lispector and Camus but with the self-referential and weary globalism of the current milieu. A consummately accomplished novel. A worthy treatise on the now.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56689-508-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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