Even Vonnegut's weaker myth/cartoon parables of 20th-century American life—Slapstick, Jailbird—have had a certain gravity and a strange shapeliness in their whimsical digressions, their near-childish interplay between silly plots and Big Themes- Here, however, though the Message circles around such weighty matters as Art and Disarmament, there's no majesty in the doodling, no sense of a pattern worth following to the end. Vonnegut's little-man protagonist this time is narrator Rudy Waltz, born in 1932 to millionaire Otto of Midland City, Ohio—a no-talent pharmaceuticals heir who fancies himself an artist (he studied in Vienna with beloved classmate Adolf Hitler), briefly promulgates Nazism in Ohio, and collects guns with passion. So Rudy grows up with a love and knowledge of firearms—till the day in 1944 when, at age twelve, he takes his beloved Springfield ("I liked it so much, and it liked me so much, since I had fired it so well that morning") up to the roof, shoots a bullet into the sky . . . and manages to kill a pregnant woman. Result? The family fortune is lost, father Otto goes to prison, the dead woman's husband is forgiving but writes an eloquent editorial. ("I give you a holy word: DISARM.") And the disarmament theme pops up, in nuclear form, elsewhere too: Rudy's mother will die from radiation poisoning, thanks to a mantelpiece made of radioactive cement from Oak Ridge; the whole town of Midland City will be depopulated by the "accidental" explosion of a neutron bomb in transit. ("My own guess is that the American government had to find out for certain whether the neutron bomb was as harmless as it was supposed to be. So it set one off in a small city which nobody cared about. . . .") But equal space is given to: asexual pharmacist Rudy's 1960 attempt at playwrighting in Greenwich Village; the doomed teenage love of his brother Felix (future NBC exec) for a wrong-side-of-the-tracks girl who later commits "suicide by Drano"; the evidence that Sir Galahad was Jewish; etc. And though Vonnegut's closing statement here—"We are still in the Dark Ages"—presumably can embrace all those fragments of story, character, and preachment, this is a sluggish potpourri of elbow-in-the-rib ironies . . . and perhaps Vonnegut's weakest fiction ever.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 1982

ISBN: 0385334176

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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 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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