THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

STORIES

Family crisis and calamity rule the day in eight longish debut tales.

The worlds Stolar depicts are complete in their frankness and realism, but sometimes they feel put together like jigsaw puzzles, with familiar pieces stitched into unfamiliar patterns rather than uniquely painted or drawn. A sampling: in “Jack Landers is my Friend,” an ex-nerd mingles with his old high school crowd, now old enough to have “arrived at a point in our lives where infidelity, or at least the possibility of it, was an assumed feature of our social terrain.” But will this be the night when our narrator finally mingles with the girl he used to wonder about in school? A family saga emerges in “Home in New Hampshire” when a middle-aged woman’s below-the-waist paralysis creates predictable difficulty in a marriage (despite surgery that makes intercourse possible) and come to threaten the entire family. Another family theme appears in “Second Son” when an aging doctor’s responsibility to teach his second son how to drive becomes an opportunity for reflection on the progress of medicine and the old relationship with the first son. “Fundamentals” is a somewhat stilted basketball fable about competition reaching across generations to damage relationships. And in “Mourning,” a young man’s mother’s death by cancer while he is in college triggers a friendship with another young man (“Remember, this is the semester your mother died,” the friend says, helping the protagonist to cope and study. “We’re not shooting for A’s here”) that eventually becomes a sweetly mystical inauguration into adulthood and a study in healing and redemption. Stolar’s delivery is fresh in its simplicity but sometimes stale in its construction. The seams still show, and at moments sentiment comes to the fore where beauty is called for. But, with complicated plots, he shows a propensity for the longer form he’s almost certainly headed toward.

Stilted, but genuine.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-30409-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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