THE PARTHENON BOMBER

Reminiscent of a half-century–old ancestor, Vassilis Vassilikos’ 1966 novel Z, in its sardonic protest of things as they are.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone: thus this slender but deeply charged novella concerning an unspeakable—but sadly imaginable—act of terrorism.

“He keeps to himself, we don’t see him often. He doesn’t socialize like everyone else and rarely speaks.” So, inevitably, says one of his neighbors after a 21-year-old Athenian known only as Ch.K. (“only his initials were released to the public”) blows up the crowning achievement of classical Greek architecture, the Parthenon. Ch.K.’s logic is impeccable, after a fashion: the building is so beautiful, so powerful a testament to a civilization superior to the Greek present, that it forces Athenians to cast their eyes downward at their grimy, dirty city, “and that puts us into a bad mood, because she’s unworthy of It, and no matter what we do, we will never become worthy of such a masterpiece.” One can read Ch.K. as a nihilistic heir of Albert Camus’ antihero Meursault, or one can see in Chrissopoulos’ plainspoken tale, told as a multipart procedural, an extended metaphor for the decline of Greece as a poor stepchild to the European Union, overrun by refugees and mired in apathy. Naturally, like Mohamed Atta and company, Ch.K. sees grandeur in his act of destruction, a dare turned into deed: if everything in Athens “looks evanescent,” as he proclaims, then how much more permanent a bomb crater will seem, something to shake the bourgeoisie to their core and rattle every window around. The state, naturally, has other ideas, and if some of the interviewees quietly agree that Athens truly did not live up to its wondrous past, that won’t stop a few things from happening, one of them the construction of a “New Parthenon” scheduled to go up in months rather than centuries.

Reminiscent of a half-century–old ancestor, Vassilis Vassilikos’ 1966 novel Z, in its sardonic protest of things as they are.

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59051-836-6

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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