An offbeat adventure that reads something like Bill Willingham’s Fables directed by Ralph Bakshi.

HOLY COW

A MODERN-DAY DAIRY TALE

A conflicted cow, a Jewish pig and a debonair turkey seek acceptance and enlightenment during a journey across the Middle East. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before….                 

Long before he became the face of The X-Files’ Fox Mulder or Californication’s Hank Moody, Duchovny earned a master’s degree in English literature from Yale and was on his way to a Ph.D. As it turns out, his debut novel is a charming fable about dignity and tolerance, complete with anthropomorphized animals and replete with puns, double-entendres and sophisticated humor. The book is narrated by Elsie Bovary, a cow on a small farm in upstate New York  who has a clear knowledge of the kind of story she is telling. “I don’t know if you’ve read Animal Farm. It seems like that’s a book all human children have to read. Personally I prefer Charlotte’s Web, though spiders can be tricky—Harlot’s Web anybody? (And eight legs? Really? Two or four is the appropriate number of legs, everybody knows this. Maybe five, maybe. Eight seems desperate to me, or indecisive, indulgent even. You know?)” Upon learning how cows are slaughtered, Elsie plots her escape. To aid her efforts, she agrees to team up with Jerry—also known as Shalom—a Torah-reading pig who plans to use kosher dietary laws to his advantage in Jerusalem, and Tom Turkey, who wants to move to Turkey, naturally. After the obligatory training montage, the trio are off in their human disguises, traveling from Turkey to Israel to Palestine and finally Mumbai. Elsie has a very funny narrative voice, dropping bits of screenplay, suggestions for movie stars to cast (Jennifer Lawrence!), and clever but understated nods to pop culture, rock music and the value of faith. Between the book’s sly humor, gently humanist (animalist?) message and wry illustrations by Natalya Balnova, this is a pseudo–children's book that smart adults should greatly enjoy.

An offbeat adventure that reads something like Bill Willingham’s Fables directed by Ralph Bakshi.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-17207-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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