Ambitious but uninspiring.


A debut novelist retells timeless tales from a feminine perspective.

Classical mythology endures—at least in part—because of its malleability. Ancient Near Eastern cultures borrowed one another’s deities and transformed them to meet their own needs. Poets, playwrights, and painters have been creating their own iterations of the Olympian gods for thousands of years. One of the difficulties of working with familiar figures and well-known tropes is making them fresh. Writers crafting long-form narratives face the additional challenge of putting flesh on archetypes. In choosing to give a voice to a woman plagued by awful men—her father, King Minos; her first love, the hero Theseus; Dionysus, the god of wine—Saint succeeds in presenting a distinctive version of Ariadne. The author doesn’t quite deliver on making her protagonist—or anyone else in this novel—real. One issue is Saint’s prose style. She uses formal, stilted language that is, perhaps, supposed to create a sense of antiquity but instead just feels unnatural. There is more telling than showing, and characters launch into soliloquies that might make sense in a Greek tragedy but are out of place here. On the whole, Saint is writing in a mode that is neither realist nor fantasy but an awkward place in between. For example, as she offers a detailed depiction of the infancy and development of the Minotaur—Ariadne’s half brother—the monster ceases to be horrifying and instead becomes slightly ridiculous. The reader has leisure to ask such questions as why, since cows are herbivores, a creature with the head of a bull would enjoy a diet of human flesh. Worse, though, is that Saint manages to make Dionysus—a god who inspired bloodthirsty frenzies in his drunken followers—boring. Ariadne becomes his bride soon after she’s dumped by Theseus. After a few years, Ariadne and Dionysus are staying together for the kids and hoping that a couples vacation to Athens will spice things up.

Ambitious but uninspiring.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-77358-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.


Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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