A novel of sonorous character study, showing both the limits and allure of truly knowing another person—and oneself.


A woman’s amnesia strains her relationships with her husband and her best friend.

Married couple Claire and Charlie and their dearest friend, Rachel, have a long, complicated history and a friendship so close it's more like family. Rachel and Charlie met in a modernist poetry seminar when she was studying abroad in England. They had a shy but loving romance of their own, and he moved with her to Boston to go to graduate school, where together they met Claire. When Rachel’s parents died in a car accident, first Claire and then Charlie moved into her childhood home and took care of her through her intense grief. Claire has been leading the trio through their lives ever since. When Rachel became pregnant and decided against keeping it and against telling Charlie, Claire helped her through. When Rachel, in her sadness about this choice, turned away from Charlie, Claire took her place as his romantic partner. When Charlie got a job in Vermont, Claire moved with him, convincing them both that it would work. But now it's Claire who needs to be led. A traveling journalist working on a story in India, she has been away from Vermont and from Charlie for some time, literally and emotionally, when she's bitten by a mosquito and contracts Japanese encephalitis, leading to seizures and brain damage: “There is a smudge where [her] memories are supposed to be.” She is unstable, unwell, unable to remember her life from her late teens through her most recent writing assignments, knowing only that she awoke alone in a hospital in Florida. Occasionally a floating memory comes forth—of a moment in the shared kitchen of their youth or, more recently, of a mysterious photographer named Michael—but mostly Claire is at a loss. She hates it, a normally independent and fearless woman trapped by her health—and her husband hates it, too, as the dynamics of their relationship lurch dramatically away from the usual. Over the course of the novel, told through the friends' three alternating points of view, shared and unshared memories are revealed as Charlie and Rachel care for Claire and as Claire works to put it all back together. Each has secrets, and secreted resentments, of which Luloff’s (The Beach at Galle Road, 2012) slow unearthing is fascinating and thorough.

A novel of sonorous character study, showing both the limits and allure of truly knowing another person—and oneself.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56512-922-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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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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