A closely written, multidimensional coming-of-age novel that captures a time of whispers, elaborate codes, and not...

OUR YOUNG MAN

White (Jack Holmes and His Friend, 2012, etc.) returns with a playful yet searching novel of gay life in the New York of Ed Koch and Studio 54.

Guy, a plainly named young man, is anything but plain: discovered in Paris, he's at the top of the New York modeling world, and he's seemingly ageless, which works to his advantage not just in that business, but also in attracting a string of well-heeled lovers who are convenient but no paragons of true love—and indeed sometimes repellent (“They were introduced and the baron, ugly as a commissar, held on to Guy’s hand for an uncomfortably long interval”). A bit of an ingénue and a bit of a Candide, Guy is nonetheless a romantic—not exactly a winning outlook in the Fire Island of four decades past, just at the time that sexual abandon is about to give way to the sober, killing realities of AIDS. Writing with wit and gently arch humor, White explores the cultural differences between France and America, and he limns the distinctions between the gay tribes of Christopher Street (“tall, balding, skinny, pale, tattooed, almost as if they were vagrants who slept rough”) and Fire Island (“everyone was in a Speedo pulling a wagon of groceries across the bumpy boardwalk; you couldn’t tell the houseboys from the bankers”), between the Minorites and Athenians and Friends of Dorothy. The story proceeds by means of nicely paced dialogue interspersed with reflection and observation, to say nothing of Guy’s beauty tips—facial isometrics, Retin-A, “a daily glass of fattening orange juice”—as he builds a life in a time when restrictions are few and appetites endless, though one might have trouble feeling sorry for his narrow regime of visits to the gym, Europe, and Saks.

A closely written, multidimensional coming-of-age novel that captures a time of whispers, elaborate codes, and not inconsiderable danger.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-996-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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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 SECRET HISTORY

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

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