Beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.

FRANKISSSTEIN

An author known for her explorations of gender, desire, and imagination takes us to the past to look into the future.

There is probably no novel written in English with a more well-known origin story than Frankenstein. The scene of that work’s conception—Lake Geneva, 1816—is where Winterson begins her reimagining of science fiction’s ur-text. Mary Shelley herself is the narrator. Keenly observant, sensitive without being fragile, and utterly unashamed of her own sexuality, Winterson’s (Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere, 2018, etc.) Shelley is a brilliant creation. The contemporary author, being well versed in the gothic tropes that her predecessor deployed, plays with doubles and doppelgängers throughout, and her second narrator, Ry Shelley, is an echo both of Mary Shelley and the monster who is the invention of Mary Shelley’s invention. Ry, given the name Mary at birth, identifies as trans and works for a company devoted to cryogenics—to restoring the dead to life. It’s in this capacity that he meets Victor Stein, the “high-functioning madman” who will become his lover. Victor is famous as an expert in artificial intelligence. But Ry discovers that Victor has other—messier—pursuits as well. As is perhaps apt, this is a novel of many parts, so there are also interludes set in Bedlam, where Victor Frankenstein becomes an inmate and Mary Shelley is his visitor. There are special pleasures here for readers familiar with the science and philosophy of the early 19th century, such as when a 20th-century evangelical Christian goes undercover at the cryogenics lab to investigate where the soul goes when we die and whether or not it returns if the body is reanimated. But no specialist knowledge is needed to appreciate this inquisitive novel, because the questions Winterson is asking are questions that have always been with us. What is love? What is life? What am I, and what do I desire to be? Of course Winterson has no answers; what she offers instead is a passionate plea that we keep asking these questions as we refashion ourselves and our world.

Beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2949-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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