Deftly plotted and well written, a gentle meditation on the healing power of art—and its limitations.

THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO

Two people nursing childhood wounds meet via a piano and take a journey toward closure across Death Valley.

Cander (Whisper Hollow, 2015, etc.) grabs the reader in her opening pages: a bravura, thickly detailed account of the creation of a Blüthner piano from wood culled in the forests of Romania, then lovingly aged and shaped in a factory in Leipzig. Blüthner No. 66,825 comes to Katya, a gifted Soviet musician who reluctantly immigrates to California with her husband, Mikhail, who promises that her beloved piano will soon follow. Somehow, decades later in 2012, it has wound up in the possession of Clara, an auto mechanic in Bakersfield who impulsively puts it up for sale after she and the piano are kicked out by her live-in boyfriend, frustrated by her inability to commit. How these stories connect doesn’t become apparent until long after Clara reneges on her sale to photographer Greg Zeldin, realizing she can’t give up the only connection to her parents, who died in a fire when she was 12. Cander expertly parcels out her revelations: Alert readers will likely figure out that Greg is Katya’s son before he admits it on route to Death Valley, but the final plot twist is a satisfying surprise. Clues are carefully planted, however, as Cander builds parallel narratives in alternating chapters. Clara warily joins forces with Greg, allowing him to lease the piano and following him to Death Valley, where he takes a series of photos of the piano perched in locations he once visited with his mother. Flashbacks chronicle Katya’s increasing misery in the U.S., mitigated only temporarily—and ultimately disastrously—when her piano belatedly arrives. As the narratives converge, Greg convinces himself and almost convinces Clara that the piano shows they were meant to be together. Her realization that it’s not so simple prompts an odd but beautiful finale that leads from inside the piano’s consciousness to the summit of Dante’s Peak.

Deftly plotted and well written, a gentle meditation on the healing power of art—and its limitations.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65467-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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