Neither a faithful retelling nor a trenchant countertale, though agreeable enough as an afternoon’s entertainment.


As her contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare project, Tyler (A Spool of Blue Thread, 2015, etc.) takes on the thankless task of modernizing The Taming of the Shrew.

You don’t have to think Shrew is irredeemably sexist—Shakespeare’s take on gender roles is always more nuanced than it seems—to quickly tire of its knockabout humor. But once you get rid of Kate’s storming and Petruchio’s boorishness, what’s left? In Tyler’s version, a sharp-tongued preschool assistant, Kate Battista, whose scientist father is convinced his dead-end research will soon break through—if only he can hang onto his lab assistant, Pyotr Shcherbakov, whose O-1 visa is about to expire. That’s right, Dr. Battista wants Kate to marry Pytor to keep him in the country: after all, he points out, she doesn’t exactly have men flocking after her like her airhead sister Bunny, and she’s still in high school. Kate is hurt by her father’s thoughtless cruelty, and already these characters have more depth than Shakespeare allows his broadly drawn protagonists. What they don’t have is much energy; Pyotr in particular moves tentatively through the story, never quite sure (as he tells Kate in a rather touching scene) that he's correctly reading the cultural cues in this strange country. The real drama is between Kate and her widowed father, who depends on her without really valuing her; even self-absorbed Bunny turns out to have more appreciation for her sister than the selfish Dr. Battista. That’s sort of the point, we see, in Tyler’s version of Kate’s submission speech from Shrew, transformed here into a lecture on how pathetic men are. Tyler can’t help but invest this mishmash with a good deal of her own rueful humor and tart compassion for her bewildered characters, but her special qualities as a writer don’t make a very good fit with the original.

Neither a faithful retelling nor a trenchant countertale, though agreeable enough as an afternoon’s entertainment.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8041-4126-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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