A forceful story not helped by its choppy style, while the self-absorbed heroine grates.


Sexual healing: from the author of Resurrecting Mingus (2001).

Photographer Selah Wells does nude studies of Afro-Cuban drummers, inspired by the raw sensuality of their music. She’s always been amazed by the power of sex, starting back when she charged neighborhood boys a quarter each to touch her budding breasts. No way she was going to stay innocent for long, not even with Mama Gene, her grandmother, forever quoting that damn Bible. But Mama Gene had a secret of her own: her addiction to prescription pills, which she hid all over the house, even in the toilet tank, where wino husband Frank found them. Selah just can’t deal with all this hypocrisy and shit when she’s got important stuff to do like strut around in hot pants and disco shirts. Grow up? That’s for suckas. Her rape at 13 by boyfriend Tonio and his friend is just another blow that can’t keep her down for long. Love, bad and good, gets her through. Now, years later, her husband Parker has caught her in bed with another man, and things just hafta change. Selah is bored with married sex, bruised by life, and generally disillusioned. Seems like Parker’s religious devotion is another barrier to her self-realization, and she’s angry because he won’t understand that. Little by little, in somewhat confusing flashbacks, Selah reveals the emotional aftermath of an abortion she had at 19. Afraid of motherhood, and of her grandmother’s censure, Selah nonetheless named the fetus and imagined a life for the little girl she secretly wanted to have. Until she comes to terms with all of this, she can never reconcile the warring parts of her self and soul. Parker stands by her, helping out with a ritual burning of letters Selah wrote to her unborn daughter as they reconcile at long last.

A forceful story not helped by its choppy style, while the self-absorbed heroine grates.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2003

ISBN: 0-684-87353-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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