THE BEET QUEEN

A NOVEL (P.S.)

With as sure a hand as she used to reach in and touch the terror of family and tribal love in Love Medicine, Erdrich now captures in relatedness and friendship a startlingly Dickensian germ of comedy. Following three very eccentric friends through girlhood and into old age, the book deals with Mary Adare, her cousin Sita Kozka, and their friend Celestine James (one of the Kapshaws, readers of Love Medicine may remember), all living in the little town of Argus, North Dakota—an utterly pure nowhere. Mary comes to Argus after her mother deserts her and her brother Karl (who flits in and out of the story thereafter—a character of flimflam yet mystery); her uncle and aunt own a butcher shop there, a butcher shop Mary will eventually take over—with her friend Celestine—and run for the rest of their lives. Cousin Sita, never forgiving Mary's interloping, spends the rest of her own life putting some imaginary distance between herself and the common run-of-the-mill Argus life—but is foiled again and again, and needs to be continually rescued by Mary and Celestine. The three women are complete individuals—oddballs, in fact. And it is exactly their eccentricity that provides Erdrich with what she needs to create one funny set-piece after another: Mary assaulting Celestine's daughter Dot's grade-school teacher; Sita opening a far too fancy restaurant, the chef coming down with food-poisoning the night of the debut; Mary and Celestine pressed into cooking-services (a scene as good as the classic I Love Lucy episode with the assembly-line cakes); Sita in a mental hospital for a single night; Dot's disastrous starring-role in a school play. These strange characters are so plastic and pliable—while deeply interknit—that Erdrich doesn't have to do much than nudge them into confident motion: outrageousness comes off them like heat. John Irving has been straining at this kind of warm-color comedy for books and books now—and can't quite do it. Erdrich can—with a prose style as vivid and compelling as Love Medicine's: never cheap, never melodramatic or short-cutting. A truly lovely book—worthy successor to Love Medicine.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1986

ISBN: 0060835273

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more