There are some fine characterizations and much drama here, but the author’s uneven lyricism (she veers into purple prose and...


A mysterious abandonment and reunion frame multi-generational trauma, racial violence and lasting emotional damage.

Middle-aged Alice is making strawberry jam when her mother Olivia, who abandoned her at age four, knocks on the front door. From the moment Alice answers with “bloodlike glaze dripping” from her fingers, we know we are in portentous (and occasionally pretentious) southern gothic territory. Best known for the easy charm of her Hope Springs trilogy, here Hinton (The Last Odd Day, 2004, etc.) taps into the darker, if not deeper, vein of her recent work. Olivia dies soon after Alice meets her. Grieving, Alice recalls her awful foster childhood and then the book settles into the story of Olivia’s birth and life. Olivia’s mother Mattie is a sex-driven, emotionally frigid product of her own father’s violence. She arrives in Greensboro, N.C., pregnant, but in deep denial, her five-year-old son Roy tagging along like an afterthought. She settles into a shack on the edge of Smoketown, Greensboro’s black ghetto, right next to Ruth, a saintly black woman with her own history of violence. Olivia is born on the heels of the grotesque killing of a young black man and the dramatic ice storm that follows. Ruth’s children, Tree, and her dreamy older brother, E. Saul, become Olivia’s only real friends. Roy, however, turns mean and violent as he grows into manhood, setting the scene for more horrific violence, events that shatter Olivia and the little love she has known. The dénouement, told from Alice’s point of view, offers a few shreds of redemption and a sermon-like anecdote justifying the title (Hinton is a pastor).

There are some fine characterizations and much drama here, but the author’s uneven lyricism (she veers into purple prose and cliché) and limited psychological acuity (cycles of abuse figure largely here) doesn’t quite rise to the challenge of her material.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-34795-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


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?


While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

Did you like this book?