Aims for profound but settles for pleasant.

THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV

In a small Missouri town, a widower finds solace by reaching out to other troubled souls.

Arthur Moses, 85, goes every day to the cemetery to eat his lunch at his late wife Nola’s grave. At night, he dines on whatever canned goods he can cobble together, tries to prevent his cat, Gordon, from running away, and dodges the busybody next door, Lucille, who keeps trying to entice him onto her front porch with her delicious baked goods. (This book depicts so many luscious-sounding confections it should come with its own FDA label.) One day at the cemetery, Arthur meets Maddy, a teenager with a nose ring, who hangs out there. They strike up a friendship born of mutual isolation, and she dubs him “Truluv” for his enduring devotion to Nola. As the point of view shifts among these three characters, we learn that Maddy, now a senior in high school, has been ostracized by her classmates. Her problems stem in part from the fact that her father, who raised her alone, irrationally blames her for her mother’s death in a car crash soon after her birth. A retired schoolteacher, Lucille, also in her 80s, never married because Frank, her high school true love, wed someone else. However, Frank has recently resurfaced and is trying to rekindle romance in their twilight years. Maddy’s social life consists of hookups with an older man she met at Wal-Mart, and one of these trysts leaves her pregnant. When her father urges her to terminate the pregnancy, she takes refuge at Arthur’s house. He and Lucille become Maddy's surrogate parents, and, by taking over housekeeping chores, Maddy helps them age in place. Both are childless and look forward eagerly to the birth of the baby, giving Maddy the unconditional moral and financial support she has always craved. The life-affirming messages are far from subtle, and the fine line between sensitivity and sentimentality is often breached.

Aims for profound but settles for pleasant.

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6990-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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