A skillful reimagining of stories already well-known to any well-versed reader of the Bible gracefully and intelligently...

THE SECRET CHORD

“He was big enough, but no giant.” With that gently dismissive allowance, spoken by the biblical King David, Brooks (Caleb’s Crossing, 2011, etc.) continues to explore the meaning of faith and religion in ordinary life.

And sometimes extraordinary life, too, for even David has to admit that it’s not every day one has to fight a Philistine hero. Goliath’s fatal error was that he underestimated David, who tells a young shepherd, “Sometimes, it is good to be small.” David’s God is most definitely the one of the Old Testament, the jealous and punitive one; as leader of his tribe, David’s hands are covered in blood, including that of the family of the shepherd boy. Brooks skillfully retells David’s story through the eyes of Natan, the shepherd, who plays numerous roles throughout the narrative; as Avigail, David’s knowing wife, tells him, “David will call for you often enough, be assured of it. He uses every tool that comes into his hand.” There’s plenty of action, some biblically bloodthirsty; there’s plenty of talk as well, including some psychologizing that rings a touch anachronistic (says Avigail, for instance, “I’ve come to understand that he is what he is because of his faults”). David emerges from Brooks’ pages as a complex, somewhat wounded man, dogged by trauma but mostly resolute all the same; in one of the most telling passages, Brooks imagines David eating a chicken leg calmly just after the death of a baby, reasoning, “Now he’s dead, why should I fast? Can fasting bring him back again?” Of just as much interest as her view of the politically astute lion in winter are Brooks’ portraits of characters who are somewhat thinly fleshed in their biblical accounts, such as Batsheva, Yoav, Avner, and even Avshalom—for, as Brooks sagely writes, “David, who so often saw so clearly, who weighed men to a fine grain, was utterly blind to the failings of the men he begat.”

A skillful reimagining of stories already well-known to any well-versed reader of the Bible gracefully and intelligently told.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-02577-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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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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