The book's earnestness weighs it down from time to time, but overall Wells has written a tender, affecting novel, one that...


German-Swiss novelist Wells' fourth book—his first to be translated into English—is a bittersweet, intricately plotted family saga that centers on Jules Moreau and his elder siblings.

After their parents die in an accident when Jules is 10, he, his sister, Liz, and his brother, Marty, are sent to a boarding school, and gradually they recede from each other, drift away from the (now haunted) intimacy they shared before. Liz becomes a beautiful, enigmatic butterfly, ever elusive; the driven Marty hurls himself into his studies, seizes on a new big idea, and becomes an early internet entrepreneur. Meanwhile, the awkward, dreamy Jules wants to become a photographer (his father's thwarted passion) or a writer. Fifteen years or so later, he reconnects with his friend and chief solace from those lonely schooldays, Alva, for whom he nursed a love that wasn't so much unrequited as tantalizingly out-of-phase. She's married now, it turns out, to a much older Russian-born writer who was one of their adolescent literary idols, and Jules leaves his job as a record-company executive to live with them in a remote chalet. He and Alva resume their old chaste companionship, and her husband, whose memory has begun to fail in ways at first scarcely visible but ever more conspicuous, encourages Jules to rededicate himself to his old ambition of writing fiction. What emerges from his stay in Switzerland is a dense network of connections and collaborations, not only with Alva and her husband, but also with Liz and Marty. Some of these links are wished for, some half-accidental, some ardently chased after, some resisted or delayed or lamented or clear only after years of being obscured, but all of them are inescapable—which turns out to be a pretty fair definition of family. Wells' style is less antic than that of his admired elder John Irving, but in setting, tone, density of plot, and a streak of (occasionally heavy-handed) didacticism, the resemblances are strong.

The book's earnestness weighs it down from time to time, but overall Wells has written a tender, affecting novel, one that packs a lot into a slender frame.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313400-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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