MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR

As different from The Caine Mutiny as that was from Aurora Dawn- this should tap a wholly different vein. It is the kind of book women- Just past the age of illusion- will read with absorbed interest, occasional ironic recognition, and ultimate critical detachment. But- despite the ease with which the story can be criticized, it will be read. For Herman Wouk has gone behind the scene, the patina of the apparently smug, self-satisfied, successful matron, to the girl she was, starry-eyed about life and love and her own particular genius...Marjorie Morningstar, at seventeen, was sampling the sweetness and the bitterness of life in her parents' newly acquired residence- Central Park West, a far cry, she hoped, from the Bronx where she had been brought up. She and her mother were straining her father's resources to the limit, but Margie must meet the right boys. She was beautiful, reasonably intelligent, had her eye fixed on theatre as a goal (her stage name to be Marjorie Morningstar) — and was willint to ride roughshod over parental restrictions to get there. But religious taboos were ingrained; the cult of respectability was another part of her being. And this- her story- follows a career of near success, recurrent setbacks, gingerly savored temptations, and an obsession about one man, calling himself Noel Airman, glib talker, professional wolf, unstable dabbler in the arts, that nearly wrecked her life. Noel taunted her with the reality of her true ambition- a home in the suburbs, a husband with a regular paycheck, a recognized position as a respectable matron. And Marjorie tried- through the years- to prove him wrong, while striving to remake him in an image he refused to accept. There's so much that is sound and right and moving in the story that it may be quibbling to say it is overlong; that some of the situations are too pat; that some of the characters- Noel himself, and another admirer, Mike Eden- are too often used as oracles, airing their somewhat battered views of life; that the finale seems contrived to tie up the loose ends to everyone's satisfaction. For all these things are true- and yet it remains as an extraordinarily successful portrait of someone who is every woman, at some point or other. And for the major part of the novel, it is holding reading. Primarily a woman's book, although it may open the doors to some men's understanding and sympathy.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1955

ISBN: 0316955132

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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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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