Gaines competently reveals his central character's motivations, but that might not be enough to make readers care about the...

THE TRAGEDY OF BRADY SIMS

A young reporter on assignment learns the history of a town’s black community.

After graduating from college in California, Louis Guerin has returned to his Louisiana hometown to work as a reporter for the Bayonne Journal, the weekly newspaper. As the story opens, a man named Brady Sims shoots his own son, who has just been convicted of two crimes, in front of the judge, jury, and courthouse bystanders, including Louis, who's covering the case. Assigned to write "a human interest story" on Brady, Louis spends a day at the town barbershop and learns that his subject was the disciplinarian for the quarter, the town’s black section, whipping children (mostly boys) who erred in an effort to keep them from the worse fate of ending up in Angola, the infamous state prison. As the barbers, customers, and shop loiterers talk, they offer a fuller and occasionally sympathetic picture of Brady while simultaneously showing how World War II, technology, and the Great Migration caused strife for those living in the quarter. Those larger themes, though central to the story, are expressed perhaps at the expense of a deeper portrayal of Brady. Though Mapes, the town sheriff and one of Brady's only friends, attempts to provide nuance to the character of a reputedly violent man, his testimony does not quite help generate adequate sympathy for Brady. In his first novel in more than 20 years, National Book Critics Circle Award winner Gaines (Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays, 2005, etc.) returns to the themes (crime, punishment, and compassion) and milieu (the rural South) for which he is best known, telling a simple yet provocative tale that reverberates from its Southern core, with a keen ear for the way men talk when they are among each other. Though readers may come to understand Brady’s motivations for killing his son in this expertly rendered story, they may do so with varying levels of sympathy for him.

Gaines competently reveals his central character's motivations, but that might not be enough to make readers care about the man's fate.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-43446-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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