ROGER'S VERSION

A NOVEL

Roger here is Roger Lambert, a grouchy, burnt-out divinity-school professor, a give-no-quarter Karl Barth-ian who one day entertains a visitor in his office: a pale and unprepossessing researcher in the computer facilities of the University. This boy—Dale—has an idea for a grant he'd like funded. By computer analysis, he wants to prove once and for all that God exists. He claims to keep running across significant numbers, sets, relationships—only decipherable to the omnivorous memory of the machine—that lead to some discoverable point upon which God must turn, that simply can't be coincidental. Lambert is less than impressed. The idea seems impious, robbing man of faith, reducing that to an equation. But the ardor of Dale the hacker is splendid, in contrast to Lambert's own ruined religiosity. So strict and punishing is Lambert's disgust at what cinders are left of his faith that someone like Dale is able to utterly flummox him—as well as eventually have an affair with his wife, Esther. In the meantime, Lambert tries to straighten out a slutty half-niece, resulting in a little adultery of his own—as well as offering a lesson in pity and relative evil when the girl mistreats her illegitimate and half-black infant daughter. In a relatively plotless book for Updike, what plot there is—Dale and Esther, Lambert and his niece—seems especially stiff. Maybe it's because so much of the book is spent in long spoken expositions of Dale's computer knowledge—something with which Updike is clearly fascinated. When intellectually fascinated, Updike sometimes becomes entranced (see the section in The Witches of Eastwick where one of the women plays a Bach suite on the cello: meticulously correct technical information becomes a plague on the reader), but the enchantment here is very hard to share: it seems a function of authorial curiosity and play of mind—but it doesn't necessarily claw into any of the characters. What does claw—into Roger Lambert—is a theme Updike has used before but never so explicitly: sex as despair. Using Roger's lecture notes on Tertullian and Barth, Updike gives clear shape here to what his work has been prefiguring for years: "the flesh is man." In a book with so demanding a religious/intellectual theme, this is happily startling and quite ironic. It's only too bad that it couldn't have more fully been shown than said.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1986

ISBN: 0449912183

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1986

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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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