The largely academic riffs and worryings of a man humiliated by a dread inertia—but who still talk, talk, talks.

THE WASTIES

The elegant, sometimes amusing, but claustrophobic tale of an English prof who gets the “wasties,” an illness that sounds, more than anything, like a grim, plain, crippling stroke.

Whatever the cause, Michael Taylor has been reduced to infantilism, diminished into a creature petulant, helpless, incontinent, and mute—though with a muteness pertaining only to spoken words, not for an instant precluding the sufferer’s writing the present stylish, allusive, professorial novel (“the reader/writer in me somehow got uncoupled, . . . write though I am able”). Readers will need to suspend their disbelief that a man so ruined outwardly could retain such elegance of thought (and expression) inwardly as Taylor (self-dubbed, also, Caruso, since he can sometimes still sing) hangs out in Central Park with his lovely Nicaraguan nurse Theresa—until he bites her, though even then he’s forgiven—imagines meetings with the likes of Walt Whitman and John Muir (who snatches his wallet), gradually senses the growing enormity of the distance between his pregnant lawyer wife Gina and himself (he’s also impotent)—and, finally, is dispatched to a rather upscale (it has a wonderful view) Hudson Valley institution for assisted living. What does it all mean? Taylor isn’t beyond theorizing—on the difference between sleep and wakefulness, for example (“between an intuitive impression of what encloses you and an empirically oriented ontology of existence”)—but by and large the wasties seem merely incurable, less so meaningful, and Reuss (Henry of Atlantic City, 1999, etc.), consequently, burdens his reader with a dreariness of situation that continues—and continues. Even Taylor succumbs to filler (“Which was fictional and timeless? Which was temporal and real? I could not have said. Nobody can”), and, try as one might, only the briefest flickers of feeling now and then stir the heart.

The largely academic riffs and worryings of a man humiliated by a dread inertia—but who still talk, talk, talks.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-42071-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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