In prismatic translation from the Italian, these tiny tales sparkle with wit and worldly wisdom.

I AM THE BROTHER OF XX

Most of the 21 stories in this wide-ranging collection are only a few pages long, and they're jewels of intellect and compassion.

As if taking stock of life through the lens of European history, Swiss writer Jaeggy (S.S. Proleterka, 2003, etc.) finds poetry in the thoughts of characters who steal or desecrate, fall into depression, kill without knowing why, each fate revealing a hint about the soul, something from the core of life. In the gloomy title story, a man describes his love-hate relationship with his entrancing older sister. At age 8 he tells his grandmother all he wants to do when he grows up is die and, later, recalls how his mother’s coffin looked after someone placed flowers on it: “Little sweets, little strawberries, a flowery meadow on our mother’s skull.” There’s a story about a visit to a hospital burn unit (“The Aseptic Room”), an artwork that mirrors life (“Portrait of an Unknown Woman”), and a “puritanically serene” family with a Nazi past (“The Aviary”). Two stories focus on famous writers, Joseph Brodsky (“Negde”) and Ingeborg Bachmann (“The Salt Water House”). Jaeggy’s prose is silken, especially when violence occurs. In “The Heir,” an old woman collapses in a fire that may have been set by her servant, who notes in cold, heartbreaking detail how “her hands, like the claws of a crustacean, clutched a little mound of dust.” The wealthy, death-obsessed family in “The Last of the Line” lives out a fable of decadence in decay, where lakes dream and haunting portraits portend murder. And it’s a testament to Jaeggy’s skill that her gothic fiction can stand alongside a story such as “Names,” about a visit to Auschwitz, where, “the flowers before the Wall of Death are limp. During the night they freeze.”

In prismatic translation from the Italian, these tiny tales sparkle with wit and worldly wisdom.

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2598-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

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?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more