A beautiful portrayal of an unspeakable betrayal and the fraught path of a victim to recovery.


A victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a predatory priest remains haunted by his trauma but discovers an opportunity to heal in this debut novel. 

In 1978, an ordinary 12-year-old Canadian boy is growing up in a small suburb of Ottawa. He’s an altar boy and a Boy Scout who is already an ardent outdoor enthusiast. The local priest Father Sweet insistently invites him out camping—just the two of them—an offer the boy attempts in vain to refuse. While out in the woods, Father Sweet becomes increasingly peculiar and physically intimate, drawing the boy into a manufactured confidence, even encouraging him to drink whiskey. The priest incrementally breaks down the boy’s defenses before he ultimately strikes, a monstrous orchestration of manipulation depicted with sensitivity by Martin. Father Sweet presents the boy a ghastly deal. In exchange for his own surrender to the priest’s advances, he’ll spare someone else: the boy’s older brother, Jamie. Years later, the victim is a wounded man, mercilessly shadowed by an unreconciled pain. But by chance, he comes across letters that provide evidence of his father’s own complicity in the church’s abuse of children, and a chance for the young man to save a boy caught in the grip of Father’s Sweet’s ghastly appetite for unsullied innocence. In achingly poignant terms, the author captures not only the protagonist’s anguish, but also the burden his father must have carried: “My father was a proud man, and he usually stood straight and tall, but I could see that when we went to church, his private sins, whatever they were, bore down on him like a load of logs and humbled him into a slouch.” Martin tackles the most gruesome of subjects with an extraordinary delicacy that never undermines the story’s brute power—it is at once darkly discomfiting but also told with admirable grace. Of course, this is a contemporaneously relevant tale as well. The author raises important and provocative questions about the Roman Catholic Church’s complicity, and the value of reforming an institution, whatever its ideals, that has fallen so deep into a moral abyss. 

A beautiful portrayal of an unspeakable betrayal and the fraught path of a victim to recovery.

Pub Date: July 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4597-4396-0

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Dundurn

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2019

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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