Pretentious, overtold, and transparent—Joy mistakes literary allusion for literary merit.


A fatal hunting accident and its coverup prompt this tale of violence and revenge in the mountains of western North Carolina.

When Darl Moody, who’s poaching out-of-season deer, accidentally kills Carol “Sissy” Brewer, who’s poaching someone else’s ginseng, he knows he’s got a problem: namely Sissy’s brother, Dwayne Brewer, who steals chainsaws for a living, pulls guns on bullies in Walmart bathrooms, and spends his spare time “fieldstripping and reassembling his Colt 1911 as fast as he [can] with his eyes closed.” Darl knows Dwayne isn’t the kind of guy who'd say, “Hey man, I know you killed my brother and all, hard feelings,” so he decides to bury Sissy, and he gets his friend Calvin Hooper to help. Unfortunately, they leave a breadcrumb trail, and Dwayne, whose love for Sissy was “the deepest…he’d ever known," follows it, bent on revenge. Joy’s (The Weight of This World, 2017, etc.) third novel is a fast-paced, tightly plotted thriller that falls short of its literary pretensions—in fact, it's more pretension than anything else. Dwayne, misunderstood “trash” who loves his brother and can quote the Bible, has been explicitly compared to the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Anton Chigurh of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Judge Holden of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and Lester Ballard of McCarthy’s Child of God. But where these prophetic villains are classically inscrutable, Dwayne—like the rest of Joy’s novel—is the opposite. There is no human mystery. Every action, thought, and motivation is explained. To be fair, there are some competent fight scenes. And Sissy’s decomposing body is nicely visceral. And in between the melodrama and cliché, Joy does manage a few inspired local details: “as each addition rotted away, a new one was hammered together…so that slowly, through decades, the five-room shanty shifted around the property.” But for the most part this book is a sculpture of lazy sentences (“The place where he could take no more had come and gone in the blink of an eye and now here he sat little more than a husk of what he was a week before”) and prepackaged profundity (“mothers should not bury their children”).

Pretentious, overtold, and transparent—Joy mistakes literary allusion for literary merit.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-57422-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?


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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet