A shallow coming-of-age fable.

SEA MONSTERS

New fiction from the author of Asunder (2013) and Book of Clouds (2009).

In the late 1980s, Luisa is 17, about to graduate from a prestigious high school in Mexico City. A scholarship student and the child of two academics, she doesn’t fit in with the wealthy and aristocratic kids at her school. She finds her tribe among the outcasts who listen to Joy Division and The Cure. She finds her soul mate when the sullen, black-clad Tomás enters her life, and she finds her purpose when she reads a newspaper article about Ukrainian dwarfs who have run away from the circus on a tour of Mexico. Together, Luisa and Tomás run off to the seaside town of Zipolite in search of the missing circus performers. What Aridjis makes of this surprising story is…rather boring. The book is half over before the heroine embarks on her quest, and nothing we learn in the first half of the story explains why Luisa would do something so capricious. At the same time, it’s hard to care. For a novel in which shipwrecks and the denizens of the ocean floor are recurring metaphors, this book seldom dives into the narrative. Instead of depth, we get a baroque style that doesn’t add much to our enjoyment or understanding. Early on, Luisa says of Tomás: “He had started out as a snag, a snag in the composition; from one moment to the next, there was no other way of putting it, he had begun to appear in my life back in the city. And since all appearances are ultimately disturbances, this disturbance needed investigating.” The novel is full of this sort of complicated language, and the story seldom benefits from it. References to 1980s punk and New Wave will be nostalgic landmarks for many readers, but we learn very little about Luisa beyond her taste in music. After Luisa realizes that the Tomás of her daydreams is nothing like the real boy, she goes looking for connection among the denizens of Zipolite and finds herself caught up in trouble she had not anticipated. There are eccentric characters and sensational incidents, but we never go below the surface.

A shallow coming-of-age fable.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-936787-86-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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