A tense, startling book of true beauty and insight. Proof that the oldest of stories contain within them the seeds of our...

EVERYTHING UNDER

A retelling of Oedipus Rex set in the insular community of the boat people who live along the canals of Oxford.

Gretel was raised in the sole company of her mother, Sarah, on an engineless houseboat moored in a quiet part of the River Thames. Their relationship is intensely iconoclastic and isolated: They haul their own water, fish for much of their food, speak a language peppered with made-up words, school each other with entries from Sarah's encyclopedia. One winter, dogs, cats, and even children begin to go missing from the communities that live on the river. Sarah and 13-year-old Gretel believe it is the work of an uncanny creature they call the Bonak, and, with the help of a wandering boy named Marcus, they determine to trap and kill it. Now Gretel is an adult working as a lexicographer, and Sarah—who abandoned her into foster care 16 years earlier—has come back into her life in an even wilder and more unpredictable form. Sarah's phone call making contact sends Gretel on a quest into her own past: First to find Sarah, then to find Marcus, and finally to confront the Bonak, a creature made flesh by her and her mother's own fears. The book is structured in interwoven sections which alternate among Gretel's first-person perspective and the close-third-person narration of Sarah and Marcus, whose timelines take place in the past. As the truth about Marcus' identity becomes clearer, the haze that surrounds Sarah—a reimagining of Jocasta—deepens. However, where the original tale focuses on the torment of Oedipus himself, here the mother's rage, her despair, and her progressive disassociation from the known world are the centerpieces of the story. Sarah's past leaves lurid scars across her daughter's psyche as the book delves into what it means to live in a world that binds us so cruelly to our fate. Johnson's (Fen, 2017) debut novel explores the determinism of its characters’ choices even as it asserts the fluidity of their genders and their relationships with each other, in prose that harmonizes with the haunting wasteland of its setting—a place where what is discarded takes on new identity if not new life.

A tense, startling book of true beauty and insight. Proof that the oldest of stories contain within them the seeds of our future selves.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-826-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Graywolf

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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