A life in pictures, mostly out of focus.

LAURA LAMONT'S LIFE IN PICTURES

A film star of Hollywood’s golden age goes mild, in Straub’s curiously bloodless debut.

Elsa Emerson, whose father owns and manages a Wisconsin summer stock playhouse, wasn’t always destined for stardom. Her older sister, Hildy, is the one with the glamour, presence and grace. But when Hildy hangs herself after being jilted by an actor, Elsa’s discovery of her sister’s body forever alters her worldview. Just how, is the novel’s task to reveal, and unfortunately it fails in that purpose. Elsa seems to drift into the various phases of her life. Having escaped Wisconsin by marrying fellow Hollywood-bound thespian Gordon, she gives birth to two daughters in quick succession and is consigned to housewifery while her husband achieves a modicum of success under contract to Gardner Brothers Studio. When Elsa meets Gardner mogul Irving Green, he sees her diva potential, renames her Laura Lamont and changes her Nordic blond looks to the persona of a sultry brunette. Gordon is quickly dispensed with, and she marries Irving, who provides security and an opulent house in Beverly Hills. By the time her son, Irving Junior, is born, Laura’s career again takes a back seat, this time to a more luxurious domesticity—now even her husband is touting her for matronly roles. Although Laura wins an Oscar early on, there is scant other evidence of her celebrity status since we see mostly her home life. Already a passive character, she becomes more so after Irving’s death. (He had a weak heart and was never robust.) She resorts to barbiturates to get her through her not-so-busy day. The tragedy of Irving’s death compounds the psychic wounds opened by Hildy’s suicide and more recently, her beloved father’s passing. Although Straub’s languid language convincingly conveys Laura/Elsa’s inability to cope, the reader at times wishes this screen star would go less gently into the good night of the aging female in Hollywood.

A life in pictures, mostly out of focus.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-845-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 17

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

more