An intriguing antihero’s perspective on his life and times.

THE AMERICAN PLAN

A Korean War deserter tries to start over in a rapidly changing Florida in this novel.

Philip Narby doesn’t remember who he was. In an earlier lifetime, he was a behind-the-scenes paper-pusher in Occupied Japan. But he learned things he shouldn’t have about the illegal activities of the powers that be. For that, he got tortured and then sent to the front lines of the Korean War, where he was gravely injured. A military black marketeer used him as a mule for his ill-gotten gains and helped Narby flee to Cuba. Early on in the tale, the drug-addled Narby escapes Havana by boat when the people start turning against dictator Fulgencio Batista, and crashes ashore on Florida’s Gulf Coast, with thousands of stolen dollars in a rucksack. He’s accompanied by a young, idealistic medical student, through whom he funnels aid to Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries. Narby also invests in land in the region, building a primitive fortress in the jungle. He falls in lust with an abstract artist living in a nearby colony of the wintering wealthy. He also falls under the spell of jazz, even running a club in Miami’s black Overtown section. But Narby is really stuck between the worlds of the powerful and the faceless masses: “There were only two sides, now and forevermore: them, the jackals with generals’ stars, and the Harvard-suckled backstabbers and assassins, and us, the men who didn't matter, fodder left to rot in the swamps and the jungles and the shit-water ditches.” Narby’s adventures are a warped version of the American Dream, as he uses stolen funds to build a better life for himself and others. Yet he can’t enjoy it because his paranoia has him continually looking over his shoulder. Weisberg’s (Chronicles of Disorder, 2000) narrative is much like the protagonist’s life: while time passes quickly, significant events for Narby happen only occasionally. His indolent lifestyle wears thin over 600 pages. Furthermore, there are few characters worth rooting for. Narby means well, but his venomous thoughts and substance abuse bring him down. Still, it’s engrossing to watch one man founder in the midst of a turbulent period of history.

An intriguing antihero’s perspective on his life and times.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

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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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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