LIBRA

DeLillo's fascination with conspiracy, apocalypse, and public events—tesselated from a hundred chips of separate, small human misery—turns to the Kennedy assassination almost inevitably. And with the style honed by his most recent novels, White Noise and The Names (which this book seems closest to), he is able to construct a half-speculation, half-tragedy very finely. Lee Harvey Oswald is, of course, the center, the Libra of the book—his scales tipped lifelong by ugliness, outsider-ness, a smothering mother, a desperate need to distinguish himself somehow. The ex-Marine who defected to Russia and returned (and yet who called himself a Marxist even more doggedly back in the States with his Russian wife) is, in DeLillo's version, the completely marginal man, utterly without qualities. Which makes him a too-good-to-be-true instrument for a plot by current and ex-CIA operatives (as well as by disgruntled Bay of Pigs veterans) to find someone to take a shot at President Kennedy. That the shot is supposed to miss (kill a Secret Service man at worst)—and that the furor resulting from it would then be pointed in Cuba's direction, as a Castro plot to kill Kennedy—gets quickly forgotten as the conspiracy begins to take on a life of its own: the multiple gunmen in place, Oswald as the gun they'll let the police find and do with as they will. As speculation, this is nothing new, but DeLillo's novelistic powers become very keen indeed, especially when forming scenes for the plotters. For them, ideology is more than slippery, it's of no-account: process is all—and yet everything is always at the lip of chaos. Oswald keeps slipping from their grasp, for instance, and real organization is an illusion. Brilliant interior monologues (with the exception of that of Oswald's mother, Marguerite, which is largely hokey and theatrical) suggest deep seriousness at the total whim of accident. DeLillo mars the book a little with overly portentous intellectual meditations (by one of the CIA operatives) on the nature of plots—murderous or fictional—and by Jack Ruby's hopelessly awkward Jewish-gangster manner of speaking. But these are flaw-specks in a book that is genuinely dread-filled—a story that everyone knows he doesn't really know, and which DeLillo worries, and prods, and deepens with sure artistry.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1988

ISBN: 0140156046

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1988

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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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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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