A brooding tale of personal responsibility and dangerous legacies that's ambitious and impressive but finally overreaches...

STRONG MOTION

Franzen follows his widely acclaimed debut, The Twenty-seventh City (1988), with a potent saga of tentative love and environmental catastrophe that quakes and ultimately self-destructs, although it fragments into magnificent pieces in the process.

The title, a technical term for ground shaking near the epicenter of an earthquake, comes into play as a series of shocks hits the coast north of Boston, the first of which supposedly kills young Louis Holland's crotchety grandmother. His family inherits millions as a result, but he has no access to it, even when he loses his job at a local radio station after a takeover by right- to-lifers. A bright patch in his otherwise bleak landscape is his girlfriend Renée Seichek, a principled seismologist working at Harvard who connects the seismic activity with secret long-term dumping of a major chemical company's toxic waste into a deep well drilled on its property. Louis and Renée split up when an old flame comes to visit him, however, and in her loneliness Renée discovers she's pregnant, leading to a showdown between her and the fundamentalists picketing her abortion clinic. When she's mysteriously shot and critically wounded immediately afterward, Louis nurses her to health even as a final quake causes widespread damage, utterly destroying the chemical plant in a moment of sweet if heavy-handed poetic justice. Unfortunately, the dichotomies between romance and science, abortion and the environment are unresolved, and the self-pity in Louis's nihilism as he rails against mother, father, sister, the world, and himself makes him a cold and distant protagonist.

A brooding tale of personal responsibility and dangerous legacies that's ambitious and impressive but finally overreaches itself.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-27105-4

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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