An elegant, character-driven family tale set in mid-’90s Paris.

THE ART OF REGRET

A transit strike unexpectedly upends the life of the owner of a failing bicycle shop in this literary novel.

Paris, 1995. Trevor McFarquhar has just learned he will soon lose the lease on the bicycle shop he operates (and lives above) on the Rue des Martyrs. Despite—or perhaps because of—the shop’s flagging business, the 37-year-old American-born Trevor views this is as nothing short of a catastrophe. Brought to Paris at age 8 following the death of his father and sister, Trevor has never felt fully at home in the City of Light, though he has no place anywhere else. His resentment of his mother for moving her surviving children there—“simply, from what I could tell, because she’d studied French and had spent a ‘fun’ year in Paris”—has mostly softened into a general aloofness toward her, his younger brother, his casual romantic relationships, and most other things in his life. He isn’t even sure what to do about the bicycle business, seemingly content to let the universe make the decision for him (which is actually how he came to own it in the first place). Then a few things begin to happen, each of which threatens to shake Trevor out of his Parisian ennui. First, Trevor meets Béa Fairbank, an English painter at the edge of his tiny social circle who claims to have heard all about him. Then, a general transit strike brings the city’s trains to a halt, stranding commuters and creating a sudden need for bikes. Finally, Trevor’s longtime crush on his brother’s wife, Stephanie, blossoms suddenly into a full-blown affair, the discovery of which has the potential to sever for good his ties to his family. As the year unfolds, Trevor stands to learn a bit about nationality, family, love, and bikes, and more than a little about himself. While Trevor is no longer a confident English speaker, Fleming (Someone Else, 2014) enlivens her narration with sharp and measured prose, as here where she describes the protagonist’s romantic flings: “I was honest with them right from the start about the conditions of our arrangement, that is, I was not interested in anything but the stated Casual Relationship that included no exclusivity clause. Furthermore, any attempt to attach strings would be met with scissors.” As the particulars of Trevor’s past unfold, he becomes a much more relatable, tragic figure than he initially appears, and his pseudo-Americanness makes him a particular curiosity for U.S. readers. (One exchange with an American tourist highlights Trevor’s peculiarity: “ ‘So you live here,’ Harry continued piecing his puzzle together. ‘But you’re American.’ I nodded. ‘So you must be bilingual.’ ”) The novel takes its time getting started, its pace is slow, and it could stand to be 50 pages shorter. That said, the author is a talented enough writer to keep readers intrigued even when not much is going on. Trevor is a Francophonic twist on the familiar ’90s slacker archetype, and he makes for an endearingly grumpy guide through a Paris that is by turns mundane and magical.

An elegant, character-driven family tale set in mid-’90s Paris.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-646-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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