An absorbing but unpolished fugitive tale.

HAPPIEST ONE!

In this debut novel, the title character turns out to be a handsome, slim, tough, good-natured, but short-tempered Italian immigrant machinist in 1930s America.

A hardworking newcomer with a love of drink and women, Felicissimo, aka “Fee,” finds himself in a terrible predicament. After a barroom fistfight with a bigger foe named Jimmy O’Toole, Fee is the prime suspect in the man’s subsequent death. Despite the fact that the real killer is Fee’s own brother Michelangelo and that the machinist would have an alibi if his so-called friend Johnny stood up for him, the protagonist understands how things will really proceed for an immigrant accused of murder in the Depression-era U.S.—so he decides to go on the run. He figures the police will “make up their mind justthatquick, then lock me up and throw the key away.” Fee hits the road and leaves Cincinnati, making his way to the frigid little town of Trump, on the border of West Virginia and Maryland (“You’re right smack next to God’s country,” a truck driver tells him). Once Fee arrives in Trump, he has too big a personality to genuinely “lie low,” and his picaresque misadventures continue until the forces of the law threaten to catch up with him. Koh’s text is ambitious: the entire story is told in short chapters by a rotating group of first-person narrators, including Fee. All the narrators have their own phonetically spelled accents and patois (but with a fair degree of similarity across characters), and old-fashioned slang and references are freely used throughout. The result is an intriguing tale that can be challenging to follow at points, both due to the language and because all of the narrators are extremely opinionated and freely express their own biases in every situation. The characters are a curious mixture of realistic traits and bold stereotypes, showing depth at some points and broad, facile strokes at others. The dialogue is musical, if idiosyncratic (“Him standin’ there wid ’em droppy ol’ lids watchin’ me like I’m some kinda pitcher show, no wonder I was high and outside that time”). The pacing is fast, but the small scale of the story makes it seem slower. A lot happens but nothing to shake the world—only to disrupt Fee’s universe.

An absorbing but unpolished fugitive tale.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5245-8011-7

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: May 10, 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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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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