Read it for the magnetic voice and Fox's ever interesting perspective on work, love, friendship, and parenthood—because,...

DAYS OF AWE

When a middle school teacher’s best friend dies in a one-car accident, her world begins to fall apart.

Isabel Applebaum Moore and Josie Abrams have been inseparable since Izzy’s first day at Rhodes Avenue Middle School, keeping each other sane through the principal’s inane speeches and the younger teachers’ aggressive perkiness—not to mention the students’ hormonal moods. Josie even married Mark, Izzy’s friend since kindergarten, where they were seated next to each other, “two little alphabetized Jews, dark haired and slightly lost in a forest of Midwestern consonant clusters, all those strapping, blond Schultzes and Metzgers and Hrubys and Przybylskis—strapping even in kindergarten, if memory serves.” What happens following Josie’s death isn’t all that unusual: Isabel starts spending most of her time in her ratty old sweatpants, “which Josie used to call a blend of cotton and self-loathing”; her overwhelming sadness deals the fatal blow to her already rocky marriage to the good-hearted Chris; her 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, who also loved Josie, struggles with her changing family; her mother, Helene, a Holocaust survivor, coaxes her into attending a support group for “relationships in transition,” where she tentatively bonds with a good-looking older man named Cal by cracking jokes—just the way she bonded with Josie at their first staff meeting at Rhodes Avenue. Josie pushes Chris away and tries to pull him closer; she does the same with Cal and even with her old friend Mark. She thinks back on her relationship with Josie and gradually reveals the secrets they shared. What makes the book so special is Isabel’s smart, acerbic voice and her way of seeing everything from a sharp angle. Fox (Friends Like Us, 2012, etc.) studs Izzy's narration with surprising metaphors, turning ordinary domestic items into dangerous beasts (“the herd of wild minivans”) and Josie’s fatal accident into something almost domestic (“Her rusty 11-year-old Toyota skidded off the slick road like a can of soup rolling across a supermarket aisle”). Isabel (and Fox) has such an offbeat way of looking at things that you’ll eagerly keep reading just to see what she’s going to say next.

Read it for the magnetic voice and Fox's ever interesting perspective on work, love, friendship, and parenthood—because, really, what else is there?

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-26812-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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