A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past.

WHAT BELONGS TO YOU

The life of an American expat living in Bulgaria intersects repeatedly with that of a young gay hustler in this gorgeous debut novel from Greenwell.

The unnamed narrator—an English teacher who lives in the city of Sofia—has an addiction, and that addiction’s name is Mitko. After they meet for the first time in a public bathroom, Mitko flits in and out of the narrator's life with abandon, alternating among offers of sex, hints at love, threats, blackmail, hunger, illness, neediness, rage, and despair. Mitko is beautiful, self-assured, and an enigma, and the narrator finds it hard to resist him. His growth is in his responses, which range from acquiescence to refusal, and it is this engine that propels the reader forward through a series of tenuously connected chapters that advance in irregular chronological intervals. This is a novel with a short story sensibility; many of the chapters stand on their own, hanging together only in the loosest sense. This is a feature, not a bug: instead of aggressively pursuing a series of tightly woven plotlines, readers may have the sense that they're peering through the narrator’s window randomly and of their own free will, observing his latest state each time. As for the narrator, he can only move forward if he interrogates his past—the question is, will he be able to? The prose here is supple and responsive, and Sofia teems with beauty and decay. Mitko lights up scenes like a firecracker and haunts the ones where he’s absent—a large segment of the novel where he does not appear still vibrates with his energy—but the protagonist too is a source of gentle, steady illumination as he grapples with his cravings, memories, fears, and grief. This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed.

A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-28822-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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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

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