BREATHING LESSONS

A NOVEL

In Tyler's latest testing of the strangulating tugs and miraculous stretch of familial and marital ties, a middle-aged Baltimore couple (inexplicably linked, like so many of Tyler's lovers) take a one-day's detour-clogged trip to a funeral. It's a circuit of comic bumps and heartbreaking plunges that takes them home again to dwindling hope and options, but also to the certainty of love. Maggie Moran, 48, a nursing-home aide (although years ago, her purse-lipped mother had demanded college), was certainly a "klutz." Everyone, including Maggie's "closed-in, isolate" husband Ira, thought so. Maggie had a "knobby, fumbling way of progressing through life" feeling "as if the world were the tiniest bit out of focus. . .and if she made the smallest adjustment everything would settle perfectly into place." Maggie had indeed "adjusted" the focus of young Fiona, pregnant by Maggie and Ira's failure-bound son Jesse, at the very door of the abortion clinic (surrounded by amateur picketers). Through some hardworking, warmhearted lying, Maggie had forged Jesse and Fiona's marriage; and Maggie's "breathing lessons," coaching Fiona in pregnancy, had as much control over her granddaughter's birth as all Maggie's efforts to prevent the break-up of a young marriage with no connective tissue. Now Maggie is bent on retrieving Fiona and granddaughter back to Jesse—another Moran who's "thrown away his future," like Ira, who had dreams of being a doctor, but was hobbled by his own family, whom he loved and hated. (Could it be, however, in the words of a splintery geezer, netted by Maggie on the highway, that "what you throw away is all that really counts"?) Before the visit to Fiona, there's the funeral, and middle-aged classmates watch silent movies of their young selves. The camera had recorded Maggie and Ira as "ordinary"—in the way a sea shell marks genus but not the undulations of existence. Once home, Maggie's carousel of hopes stops, and she cries out: "What are we two going to live for, all the rest of our lives?" But Ira, wiser, shrewder, offers and welcomes love. A seriocomic journey in which, as always, underlying the character-rooted, richly comic turns, is Tyler's affectionate empathy for those who detour—and "practice life" to "get it right.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1988

ISBN: 0345485572

Page Count: 345

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1988

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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