Brown (Lamb in Love, 1999, etc.) tells her story with great delicacy, giving an otherworldly, luminous air to a tawdry...

THE HATBOX BABY

A respected doctor and a notorious fan dancer fall in love at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition, circa 1933.

This unlikely pair is brought together by a baby—born three months early and carried to the fairgrounds in a hatbox by his desperate young father, who hopes that Dr. Leo Hoffman, a pioneer in neonatology, can save him. To raise money for the care of these mostly unwanted newborns, Dr. Hoffman (based on a real doctor) exhibits them and their devoted nurses to the curious public in a special, scrupulously clean display known as the Infantorium. There, in an oxygenated incubator, the hatbox baby clings to life as visitors flock to view the tiny infants. Unlike the raucous carnival atmosphere that pervades most of the Exposition, the mood is one of hushed awe, almost reverence, for the nobly self-effacing doctor and his fragile little patients. Caro, the fan dancer (loosely based on Sally Rand) who performs next door, is a pink-and-white goddess, a free spirit who takes lovers as she pleases—although she remains essentially indifferent to all but Dr. Hoffman, who cannot resist her forthright sensuality. Her cousin, St. Louis, who serves as her go-between and protector, was himself born prematurely and takes an avid interest in the Infantorium—especially the hatbox baby, who remains unnamed and unclaimed after his anonymous father is mysteriously murdered amidst a crazed fairgrounds mob. St. Louis—a pickpocket, con man, and all-around trickster—then befriends a wet nurse the better to gain access to the infants. When misguided but determined protestors have the Infantorium shut down, St. Louis envisions a lonely future without the babies or Caro—and so steals the hatbox baby and heads home to the Virginia countryside.

Brown (Lamb in Love, 1999, etc.) tells her story with great delicacy, giving an otherworldly, luminous air to a tawdry setting and great dignity to her characters. A fascinating, lyrically written tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2000

ISBN: 1-56512-299-2

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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