An outlandish but absorbing meditation on being alive among the dead.

DINNER

Leave it to the avant-garde Aira (The Musical Brain, 2015, etc.) to combine a meditation on relevance with a full-on zombie apocalypse.

In this characteristically slim but linguistically cagey story, Argentinean novelist Aira combines a comically observant depiction of an awkward dinner with a truly bizarre account of the dead returning to life. The unnamed narrator is a 60-year-old confirmed bachelor who finds himself bankrupt, depressed, and living with his caustically judgmental mother. One night the man and his mother are invited to dinner by a friend, who regales them with stories of his travels, a tour of his fantastical trinkets, and over-the-top vignettes. “All the stories he told us could have been illustrated with story-book pictures,” says the narrator. “Even those he told in parentheses or as digressions, as when he explained why he couldn’t use the sage he grew in his own garden for the meal. It turned out that an 88-year-old dwarf had fallen on the planting bed from a great height and had crushed his delicate herbs. Was that not astonishing?” Returning home, his mother retires to bed while our narrator descends into his usual unemployed habit of surfing the television.  “It didn’t even have the charm of the ridiculous,” Aira writes. He lands on a channel showing a young woman and her cameraman chasing adventure through the late night when they stumble upon reports that the dead are rising from the grave. The narrator plays out the gruesome scene, which only ends when the village’s elders start calling out the names of the dead, who return quietly to their graves. What does this mean? The author is coy on resolution but he does offer up a resounding note of hope. “You have to know how to see beyond the interests of survival and make the decision to give something to the world, because only those who give, receive,” he writes.

An outlandish but absorbing meditation on being alive among the dead.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2108-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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