Stylish, intelligent, often persuasive revisionist history, though perhaps too insistent on its premise: It’s sometimes hard...

AMERICAN ADULTERER

The adulterer is JFK, and Mercurio (Ascent, 2007, etc.) proceeds from the premise that the president’s philandering was not private and recreational, but central to both his character and his governance.

The narrative takes readers through Kennedy’s tragically truncated term, from the rousing inaugural speech to the Bay of Pigs, the European summits, the Missile Crisis and on at last to Dallas. It also—with gusto—lingers over the sordid but no less well-known tales of his assignations with Marilyn and Judy, adding a presumably fictional “pair of White House concubines” code-named Fiddle and Faddle by the Secret Service. In the popular press JFK is often treated as an unaccountable hybrid of visionary statesman and satyr, but Mercurio insists from the beginning that these two sides are entwined rather than contradictory. He reunites the bodily Kennedy—frail, pain-wracked, shot up with an array of drugs prescribed by competing doctors, insistent that without frequent sex his poisons will back up and his head will throb—with the daring and eloquent idealist. The novel reads like a psychological case study, a conceit emphasized by JFK being referred to throughout as “the subject.” Mercurio ingeniously reads the Profumo Affair, a notorious 1963 British sex scandal, as a turning point after which the press, until then accustomed to hushing up politicians’ sexual misconduct, decided that such matters were not after all private and began to divulge them.

Stylish, intelligent, often persuasive revisionist history, though perhaps too insistent on its premise: It’s sometimes hard to tell whether the obsession with sex is JFK’s or the author’s.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-1563-3

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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