The best kind of satire: barbed and hilarious, but suffused with compassion.

MIDDLE MEN

STORIES

Gavin's exceptional debut collection, set mainly in southern California, harkens to an earlier literary Los Angeles, that of Nathanael West, who, in The Day of the Locust, called Hollywood a "dream dump...the Sargasso of the imagination."

Gavin's bleakly funny, inventive stories feature hapless men caught between dire, pitiless reality—busted loves, dead parents, stillborn careers—and a golden (or at least spray-paint–gilded) mythology of manhood and of success that they can neither believe in nor bring themselves (quite) to throw out. Several stories feature young men making disastrous decisions and then following them to their conclusions in a way that would seem bathetic except that these young men, not having the consolation of delusion, steam toward misery with eyes open and mordant wit intact. There's the impoverished 20-something in "Bermuda" who gets himself fired from his job as a Meals on Wheels deliveryman so as to chase his reluctant beloved to her new job teaching music in paradise. He does this not to win her back—that's not in the cards, and he knows it—but because he sees that the only way out of the narrative he's foolishly invested so much in is to keep spiraling down to its humiliating end. In "Elephant Doors," an assistant to a mercurial, Belgium-obsessed quiz-show host is made to wriggle through a doggy door in the house of his ex-wife on a commando mission that cannot end but badly. The protagonist of "Illuminati" is a battered screenwriter still trying, long after the glory has faded, to nourish both himself and the "exalted visions I had of my future" off the proceeds from his one payday—for a "multi-ethnic buddy cop adventure comedy" called Hyde & Sikh. The poignant finale is a diptych about father-and-son toilet salesmen, the old man a veteran who feels most at home traversing the freeways, the son a fish hopelessly out of water, both bereft after the slow death by cancer of the woman—mother and wife—they loved.

The best kind of satire: barbed and hilarious, but suffused with compassion.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4931-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

more