A beguiling conclusion to an invaluable extended work. If Vidal's novels were used as texts, we'd all be American History...

THE GOLDEN AGE

Though its narrative temperature remains dangerously low, entertainment value is dependably high in this seventh and last of Vidal's delectable Novels of Empire.

The Golden Age follows chronologically Washington, D.C. (1968), and is also closely related to Vidal's Empire, Hollywood, and even (his best novel) Burr. It begins in 1939, when fears of inevitable American involvement in another European war increase the likelihood that incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt's "amoral mastery of world politics" will guarantee him an unprecedented third term. Vidal then summarizes (often rather tediously) the watershed domestic and international political events of the subsequent 15 years, as observed and discussed by a colorful gallery of interconnected fictional characters and historical figures. Former film actress and newspaper publisher Caroline Sanford (Vidal's Clare Booth Luce) manipulates the levels of power (and the several men still under her spell) expertly. FDR charms and deceives all who wander within his orbit. His successor, Harry Truman, shows the steel beneath his unprepossessing exterior. And Caroline's nephew Peter Sanford bridges the worlds of Washington and Hollywood his aunt had conquered, as founder and co-editor of the liberal magazine The American Idea. Prominent cameo appearances are made by such luminaries as FDR's nonpareil advisor Harry Hopkins, William Randolph Hearst, the young Gore Vidal (already, in his 20s, a Washington insider), an imposingly resourceful Eleanor Roosevelt, and underrated novelist Dawn Powell (who memorably disses her rather better-known contemporary thus: "Ernest writes pidgin English, the way he thinks real men talk and write, consummate sissy that he is"). It's all very talky, and creaks and groans noticeably whenever Vidal makes labored connections to earlier books in the series. Still, the talk is wonderfully witty and informed—and climaxes magnificently in a surprise metafictional ending, which takes place on the recent final New Year's Eve of the past century.

A beguiling conclusion to an invaluable extended work. If Vidal's novels were used as texts, we'd all be American History majors.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-50075-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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