THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK

Updike once more, as in A Month of Sundays, is writing in homage to Hawthorne. In a small Rhode Island shore-town, Eastwick, three divorced women and mothers in their late thirties—Jane Smart, a cellist; Alexandra Spofford, a sculptor of small gift-y figurines; Sukie Rougemont, a gossip columnist for the local newspaper—make up a coven: "In the right mood and into their third drinks they could erect a cone of power above them like a tent to the zenith, and know at the base of their bellies who was sick, who was sinking into debt, who Was loved, who was frantic, who was burning, who was asleep in a remission of life's bad luck. . . ." But their witchery, though truly supernatural (supernumerary nipples, flying, telekinesis), is relatively unfocused until the arrival in town of Old Scratch himself: New York-pushy, fast-talking, hot-tub-owning, Pop-art-collecting, science-experimenting Darryl Van Home. And so begin the sabbats, presided over by Darryl—in the hot-tub, on the tennis court, over spicy hors d'oeuvres and sensual massages. But when Jenny, the grown daughter of Sukie's dead lover, arrives to settle her parents' estate, and stays to become Darryl's wife, the magic turns from harmless white to specific black. The witches are jealous, bemused; Jenny soon contracts cancer in accordance with voodoo-doll rituals; when Jenny dies the witches suffer guilt; the town rises up against them with some counter-witchery of its own. (Updike seems to suggest that all women are potential witches.) And, frightened by their own powers, the three turn to conjuring up new husbands for themselves. . . as hagdom closes in. Updike treats much of this as no more than a bagatelle—with some measure of doodling. ("She was in a wool pullover dress scarcely larger than a sweater, sharp orange in color; this color made with the sofa's vile green the arresting clash one finds everywhere in Cezanne's landscapes and that would be ugly were it not so strangely, boldly beautiful.") Elsewhere, the approach is that of social comedy: the time is the late Sixties, with saps of consciousness on the rise. But the novel works best when Updike turns it into Hawthorneesque natural allegory. The witches are body-aware, air-alert, fluid-filled creatures, completely attuned to biology—which allows Updike to write about nature (rank or pretty, raw or stable) more gorgeously, with more painterly effects, than he's ever allowed himself before. The comedy may be less than sure (Darryl/Devil is a too-obvious sleaze); the supernaturalism is a little shtick-y; Updike's odd sensual Protestantism remains murky. But what you keep coming back to, on nearly every page, is Updike's landscapist's paintbox—which is grand and lush and astonishingly fluid.

Pub Date: May 21, 1984

ISBN: 0449912108

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1984

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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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