UNRAVELLING

A Drue Heinz winner for her stories (Have You Seen Me?, 1991), Graver offers a debut novel about a 19th-century New Hampshire farm girl who goes off to the fabric mills of Lowell, Mass., finds herself pregnant and abandoned † la Tess Durbeyfield, then returns home to live a life of remorse and penance ever after. When her first child was born in 1829, Aimee's mother picked the baby's name from a magazine called The Ladies' Pearl. And with the name came early beauty, a quick mind, very stubborn disposition, and extraordinarily passionate temperament. By the time Aimee, at 15, implores her parents to let her go off to the mills, she's already come close to bursting with her new sexuality, has lusted after an itinerant mill-agent, and, in the hayloft, has had an innocent enough—to modern eyes and ears—sexual experience with her tubercular brother Jeremiah that like a memory of sin will stay with her (not altogether convincingly) all her life. Jeremiah's death soon after brings an inconsolable sense of loss to Aimee that's more than compounded when she delivers twins who are whisked off at once to waiting foster parents, never to be seen again. The author, luckily, paints this melodrama on a cloth made sturdily from the actual detail and texture of real 19th-century life, both at the mills and down on the farm—where Aimee, as scandalous to the town as a Hester Prynn (albeit without her Pearl), nurses her grief in a 12-by-12-foot bogside cabin on the edge of her parents' land. There, the years will pass; eremite Aimee's only two friends, each also crippled in one way or another, will become her symbolic husband and child; and the novel—trudging increasingly as it nears its close—will mete out the healing years. A familiar old tale told by an author who doesn't make it new, but much of the time makes it lovely, vivid, and touching. (Quality Paperback Book Club selection; $50,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 1997

ISBN: 0-7868-6281-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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