Touching and well-written.

FISHBOWL

Linked perspectives connect the quirky residents of an apartment building in Somer’s second novel (Imperfections, 2012).

Though it appears unremarkable from the outside, the Seville on Roxy—a “Multi-Residential, High-Density High-Rise”—is teeming with life. And as a goldfish named Ian plunges from a fishbowl on a 27th-floor balcony toward the pavement, he registers brief glimpses of the lives occurring within, which Somer fleshes into vivid, interwoven strands. There’s Katie, a sensitive college student visiting the Seville to find out if her boyfriend loves her; meanwhile, Connor Radley, said boyfriend, clears his apartment of guilty debris (and the woman in his bed). A landlord named Jiminez attempts to fix the building’s broken elevator, forcing everyone to take the stairs—including social outcast Herman and Garth, a burly construction worker clutching a secret package. On the eighth floor, the heavily pregnant Petunia Delilah goes into labor alone while, several apartments over, Claire the shut-in loses her job at a phone-sex line. As their perspectives cycle through, the residents’ lives collide in unexpected ways. As she climbs the stairs, Katie passes Connor’s lover wearing her own nightshirt, forcing her to “stay amid her delusions in the stairwell” or confront her clearly unfaithful boyfriend. Petunia knocks on nearby doors for help, and Garth unwraps the package and changes into his beautiful dress, unaware that an unanticipated visitor may soon discover his secret. As the action in the Seville mounts, confrontations play out, lives hang in the balance, and identities are exposed. Somer has created well-developed characters and effectively transports the reader into their three-dimensional worlds; there are also genuinely touching moments, as when Claire and Herman attempt to deliver Petunia’s baby with the help of an emergency response worker. Somer stitches things together a bit too neatly, however. From Ian’s eventual salvation to Claire’s link to the emergency response worker, these coincidences detract from the story’s believability; nonetheless, the plot’s center of human kindness mostly makes up the difference.

Touching and well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4668-6170-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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