Like Marshall himself, the novel maintains a reserved, laconic, even pedantic tone—off-putting at times yet often moving.

THE GIRL IN THE BLUE BERET

Mason (Nancy Culpepper, 2006, etc.) may surprise fans of her Appalachian stories with this historical novel about a World War II pilot who returns to France to find the families who helped him survive after his plane was shot down 36 years earlier.

In 1980, 60-year-old Marshall Stone is forced to retire as an airline pilot. His wife Loretta, whom he loved but largely took for granted, has died, and he is not close to his grown children. With an empty future looming, he decides to retrace the trail he took after he crash-landed his B-17 bomber in 1944. Marshall was co-pilot, but when the plane was hit on Marshall’s 10th mission, he had to take over from the fatally wounded pilot and crash land in a field. Local farmers helped him before the Germans could reach him. A French farm family took him in and then passed him into the care of the resistance. Soon Marshall has reconnected with the Albert family—his oldest son named Albert in their honor—and the Alberts’ son Nicolas, now a school principal, offers to help him in his search. Marshall sets himself up in an apartment in Paris—he has studied French—and begins to look for the Vallon family that hid him in Paris in 1944. He is particularly haunted by memories of the family’s teenage daughter Annette and her charismatic friend Robert, a member of the Resistance who led Marshall to safety in Spain. Soon he meets Robert’s illegitimate daughter, whose memories of her father are shockingly dark. Then Marshall finds Annette, now a lovely widow, and she fills in the missing pieces—she and Robert fell in love shortly before he and the Vallons were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Robert never recovered from survivor guilt. Marshall and Annette become lovers before they set off to cross the Pyrenees, a trip full of bittersweet memories for Marshall.

Like Marshall himself, the novel maintains a reserved, laconic, even pedantic tone—off-putting at times yet often moving.

Pub Date: June 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6718-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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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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