An arresting evocation of memory, community, and suffering.

ANGEL OF OBLIVION

In this searingly lyrical work, a young child bears witness to her family’s past.

“Grandmother signals with her hand, she wants me to follow.” So begins this remarkable book about the experiences of a Slovenian family in the 20th century. The narrator, a young girl at the novel’s beginning, is about to be shown her grandmother’s kitchen. But her grandmother might as well be leading her into memory, for it’s primarily the past to which she’s being introduced. Haderlap, an award-winning poet and writer, has based this novel on her own family’s experiences during the second world war. Her grandmother survived a concentration camp. Her father, still a child, was tortured by German police officers; by age 12, he’d gone off to fight with the partisans. Their neighbors in this small village just barely across the Austrian border fared similarly. It is a community of hardship and suffering. Haderlap’s narrator listens, horrified and rapt, to her father’s and grandmother’s stories. When neighbors discuss their own experiences, she stands “near the door left ajar and listen[s].” As she herself says, “The child understands that it’s the past she must reckon with.” For the past is not static and distant. Instead, “that time reaches out to grab me,” as sinuous and supple as any living thing. By now, decades have passed since the end of the war, but in this family, in this community, every detail, no matter how small, points back to that time, as the arrows in a compass point north. One night, the narrator observes her father smoking outside their house with a few other men. “Stanko is telling them that whenever he sees a cigarette glimmer in the dark, a firefly flutter past, or even someone strike a match, it’s always a shock for him, because it reminds him of the partisans who smoked in the dark.” Haderlap excels when, like here, she allows her characters to speak for themselves, to tell their own stories. But her book falters in more self-indulgent passages when she seems to lose herself in her own thoughts. Her mother is conspicuously absent from most of the book, and her own evolution as a thinker and writer could have used more patient description. Still, Haderlap’s is a significant achievement, hopefully a herald of more to come.

An arresting evocation of memory, community, and suffering.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-914671-46-6

Page Count: 291

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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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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