RABBIT AT REST

A NOVEL

Updike finishes up his Rabbit tetralogy here, with retired Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom in Florida half the year and then back in Pennsylvania—late in 1989: the last year of Rabbit's life, it turns out. His son Nelson has become a cocaine addict and has run the family Toyota dealership irretrievably to ground. Wife Janice is having late stirrings of independence, studying for a real-estate license. But Harry effectively is beyond the social net: his days are colored by rays of doom, melancholy, desuetude—a winding-down he fights mostly with the only appetite still strong in him, a taste for terrible junk food. The candy, salty snacks, and fried foods he stuffs into himself—Updike's prose about this orgy of junk-eating is unforgettably un judging—bring on two heart attacks. Between them, Harry's other strongest life-force briefly and unexpectedly kicks in as well, involving a one-night mutual consolation, in bed, with Nelson's wife Pru. This central indiscretion is what powers the little plot there is in the book. It is the symbol of Rabbit-in-life, of accumulation and unearned grace (as the junk-food closing up his arteries is the symbol of his impending death, dispersal). Sex, in Updike, is as much youth as anything, what always will be young; Pm says as much to Harry afterwards. And Updike's style is eternally young too—as dour and down as Rabbit is feeling, the book is a grabbing gluttony of detail, about Florida and Pennsylvania and angiography and golf and modern car radios and motels and TV programs. This crazed, immoderately layered glare of specifics is, in some ways, unmeet in a book of farewell. But it is absolutely true to the slightly amoral, excessive, hungry spirit of the Rabbit series. Updike knows it, tying up loose ends from the earlier books in little elegant cinches, making references and in-jokes; it is sometimes more a book about the other books than a wholly interesting thing in itself. But it ends the project very movingly and justly with the ebb-tide slackness of age and the body's treachery and the spirit's unwillingness to surrender youth. It caps a remarkable and unique achievement no other American writer has really pulled off. These try to be—and largely succeed in being—national books. Balzac would have been impressed.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0449911942

Page Count: 586

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1990

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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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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