A slight sophomore slump in the series, but enough heart and soul to bring most of Mapson’s fans back for installment number...

ALONG CAME MARY

Despite some lurid plot premises and extremely convenient coincidences, the feisty characters and rueful emotional wisdom of this sequel will win over all but the hardest-hearted reader.

It’s one year since Phoebe, Ness, Nance, and Beryl joined forces Bad Girl Creek (2001) to get over bad health and bad men by working and living on Phoebe’s California flower farm, dubbing themselves the Bad Girls in honor of the creek running through it. Hundreds of miles away in Nebraska, 29-year-old Mary (“Maddy”) Madigan quits her drunken boyfriend and the rodeo they sing in to head for Oklahoma City, where her twin sister was killed five years earlier in the bombing of the Murrah Building. There, she runs into Rick, the can’t-commit music journalist who drove Nance to the Bad Girls. Even before Maddy and Rick fall into bed together, we learn that (1) Phoebe’s beloved Juan was killed in a car crash on their wedding day and she’s pregnant with his baby, and (2) Nance is going to marry Phoebe’s brother James, even though she’s anorexic and not exactly over Rick. In a Santa Fe bar hosting a performance by her mysteriously wealthy boyfriend Earl (who might be the legendary studio guitarist Buckethead, always masked in public by a KFC bucket), Beryl befriends Maddy and disapproves of Rick. They arrive at Bad Girl Creek two days before James’s wedding, causing Nance to keel over, cut her head, and land in the hospital. Yes, it’s a lot to swallow, but undeniably fun to read; the story zips along, powered by the marvelously individual narrators’ voices, particularly those of Maddy and Rick, who are both smart enough to know how screwed up they are. The Bad Girls play mostly supporting roles here, but what hasn’t changed is the author’s hardheaded understanding that some actions cause permanent damage, softened by her cautious optimism that even damaged people can find new love and new purpose.

A slight sophomore slump in the series, but enough heart and soul to bring most of Mapson’s fans back for installment number three to see how she ties up all those loose ends.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-2461-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2002

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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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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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