A fine debut collection from a gifted chronicler of contemporary queer discontents.

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DAYDREAMERS

STORIES

The search for security, and the longing to break free from it, roils the lives of young gay men in these wry, hopeful stories.

In his first collection, Harper gives us a gallery of 20-somethings, many with older lovers or husbands, trying to reconcile inchoate ambitions with prosaic realities: a ne’er-do-well crashes at his brother’s house and descends into a feud with his scheming fiancee; a callow student undergoes an extreme body-piercing ritual as a seemingly supportive entree into a domestic household; a pastry chef reluctantly goes house hunting with his older lover but is drawn to the disheveled artist next door; an uncouth renter disrupts a couple’s staid lives; a grad student ponders the hidden exploitation lurking in his estranged father’s conservative church; a group of friends spends a weekend reliving their high school fantasy-gaming rituals as their leader slips into a breakdown; an older man’s offer of help to a young strip-club dancer turns rather dark; a young novelist becomes obsessed with the corpse of a woman that washes ashore in the fishing village where he is summering. Harper’s protagonists are sensitive, talented (but not too talented) youths with dreams of creative lives that they find difficult to square with their circumstances and relationships. Far from the glitter of New York and San Francisco, they are dependent on stable, boring partners, whom they often resent, and are immured in the sterile strip malls and bland apartment complexes of a downscale suburbia that has few beguiling, treacherous oases of bohemian grunge. Harper draws this landscape with a superb eye for detail and feel for atmosphere, writing with a limpid, pitch-perfect prose, suffused with a mordant humor and flashes of wistful lyricism. He perfectly captures the fecklessness of a certain age and mindset while investing it with real psychological depth and emotional resonance—and even with an air of mystery and possibility that belies the seeming banality of his characters’ lives.

A fine debut collection from a gifted chronicler of contemporary queer discontents.

Pub Date: March 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1590212967

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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