Provocative and elegantly written, but overly didactic. For all the talk, Eula never does confront her other self, and the...

DOUBLE STITCH

Prison or sanctuary? That’s just one of the thorny relationship questions facing a pair of identical twins.

When Eula Kieland, director of the progressive Drayton Orphanage in Pennsylvania, accepts Becca and Linny Carey in 1926, she knows she’s bending the rules. (Both Eula and Drayton have real-life prototypes.) The charter stipulates white girls, and the twins have a black grandmother; but Eula is captivated by them, despite their secret world (they have their own vocabulary) and constant identity-fooling. Their tricks decrease as they settle in, and different racial identities emerge in a fight over an admirer, as Becca turns ultra-black, Linny ultra-white (their grandmother, who shows up later, has an unfortunate “polka-dot” pigmentation). Is all this a full plate? Not for Gardiner (Somewhere in France, 1999, etc.), keen to explore the double in all of us, but especially in Eula, who lies on the couch for two other real-life figures, the breakaway Freudian Otto Rank and the diarist Anaïs Nin. A third preoccupation is a history of the orphanage itself. These competing interests slow the narrative, for all the thrillingly melodramatic adventures of the twins, together though apart, after graduation. Becca wins a scholarship to Peiping, while Linny hops a freight to San Francisco. Different countries, same experiences: locked rooms and sexual exploitation. Linny escapes from a commune/whorehouse to return to Drayton, but Becca is caught up in political intrigue and unwittingly betrays a host of Chinese students; she will be raped by a ferryboat captain before her eventual rescue. Relative calm reigns after the twins’ reunion at Drayton, where Linny is now a sewing mistress, despite an episode between them of life-threatening violence (possibly an inherent inevitably with identical twins, warned Rank). By the end, Linny is a successful designer, living with Becca in the Philadelphia ghetto.

Provocative and elegantly written, but overly didactic. For all the talk, Eula never does confront her other self, and the twins never clear the hurdle of dating and marriage.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58243-231-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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

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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

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