Serviceable but not at all memorable. The reader new to this history will be better served reading Goldman’s own...

THE ANARCHIST

Listless historical novel that centers on events in a particularly turbulent era in America’s past, a time of bombs, bullets and ample deaths. 

It’s been a matter of historical speculation for generations just how much influence the pioneering anarchist and labor organizer Emma Goldman had over Leon Czolgosz, the possibly mad farm boy who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901. Higgins (Waiting for the Queen, 2013, etc.) explores that influence while depicting the world of labor activism in the age of Haymarket and the Pinkertons, a time when it was not especially good to be Jewish, foreign-born and radically inclined even as law enforcement agents were insisting that the unrest was all the fault of—well, radical, foreign-born elements. (Czolgosz was born on a Midwestern farm, but never mind.) Alternating points of view, Higgins never quite inhabits the minds of either Czolgosz or Goldman, and too much of the book is given over to rather flat, talky dialogue: “And if a son avenges a father’s death by killing his father’s murderer, is he acting out of a sensitive nature?” asks Nellie Bly, the great journalist, who wanders late onto the scene. Answers Goldman, “Some actions are more impersonal than others.” What happens to poor Czolgosz is anything but impersonal; about as much reverie as can be found in these pages issues from the executioner who’s assigned to electrocute the young man, “sitting there like he’s on a train going somewhere.” The story throughout is full of such promising elements, of which too little is made, and one can only wonder what a master such as Joyce Carol Oates or Philip Roth might have done with them.

Serviceable but not at all memorable. The reader new to this history will be better served reading Goldman’s own autobiography and Wallace Stegner’s like-minded, much superior novel Joe Hill.

Pub Date: April 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-57962-356-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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