An engaging, dynamic story that grapples intelligently with themes of race, class and morality.

ZUG ISLAND

A DETROIT RIOT NOVEL

In Fournier’s thoughtful debut novel, a young man comes of age in the tense atmosphere of a city teetering on the edge of chaos.

Jake Malone, a white college kid in suburban Detroit in 1967, gets kicked out of school and decides to earn a little money to get a car of his own. He ends up at Zug Island, a steelworking plant that’s a world away from his suburban home. When he first sees the place, it reminds Jake of Dante’s Inferno, but he doesn’t know yet how literal that perception will become. After a tense fight at the plant, he’s befriended by Theo Semple, an African-American man who came to Detroit for better wages but left a family and a tragic history back in the South. In their spare time, Jake and Theo hit the town seeking adventures. As the story unfolds, what they find is eye-opening for Jake—from prostitution and police brutality on the streets of Detroit to the casual racism found in the all-white suburbs. The racial tension builds, until one day it explodes in riots that turn Detroit into an inferno. Told from Jake’s perspective, the short novel—part journey through hell, part social document, part adventure story—depicts his struggles with race and class pressure. Fournier reveals what life was like not only on Zug Island, but also on the streets of Detroit, in its white suburbs and in white and black churches. Readers may wish the author had spent more time in some of the scenes, particularly the riots, which are described from a distance. The Vietnam War is mentioned, but its impact is left unexplored. Also, at times, Fournier steps back from the story to fill in general history that is illuminating, even though it breaks the narrative flow. On the whole, however, the novel is tightly written with a dramatic plot, well-rounded characters and clear insights into social history.

An engaging, dynamic story that grapples intelligently with themes of race, class and morality.     

Pub Date: June 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1604945850

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Wheatmark

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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