THE AGE OF WIRE AND STRING

STORIES

It's possible these shouldn't be called ``stories''maybe thought-fictionsbut perhaps it doesn't matter: Marcus's debut volume has a grace, complexity, and literary ambition that put it at the highest rank. Here is a dazzling word-wizardry: always difficult, often exhausting, at times opaque, yet clearly driven by a consistent vision, program, and purpose. ``This book'' (says ``Argument'') ``is a catalog of the life project,'' adding that ``There is no larger task than that of cataloging a culture.'' Indeed. Yet in piece after piecemost a few pages long, many lessMarcus takes up that great task, even his titles offering hints as to the potential ultimacy of his subject: ``The Death of Water,'' ``The Weather Killer,'' ``Automobile, Watchdog,'' ``Outline for a City.'' By turns futuristic (``after the second appearance of 1983''), mock- historic (``One system of dating places their arrival...as early as the wakeful period of 1979''), surrealistic (``often each leg was clothed in a contrasting food style''), lyrically pathetic (``Your man can run, walk, sleep, drink, eat, and, of course, weep and die''), and simultaneously philosophic (``Certain weather is not recognized by the land it is practiced on'') and satiric (``Every year a day was set aside for discussion''), Marcus is extraordinary and boundless in his verbal and imaginative powers. After each grouping of stories (Sleep, God, Food, The House, Animal, Weather, Persons, The Society), a glossary of ``Terms'' is provided, shedding light both back and forward. In one of these, ``Ben Marcus, The''akin to the book written by sameis defined as ``a fitful chart in darkness,'' suggesting a latterday map for survival; and ``Rhetoric'' is defined as ``The art of making truth less believable''thus defining the method of Marcus's book with its mastered legacies from Swift, Beckett, and Barthelme. A rare, genius-struck achievement intended to warn readers into looking at the truth anew; not easy, but filled always with great beauties, high themes, enormous sorrows.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-42660-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1995

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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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