A first novel that doggedly does its own thing (we’re reminded of Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes). Most readers will find...

THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

In Quick’s immensely likable debut novel, an emotionally damaged loser runs a complex pattern that transforms him into a hero we can all root for.

The narrator is 30-ish Pat Peoples. Pat has returned home to live with his parents in a New Jersey suburb following a stay in a Baltimore mental institution, whence he was committed after reacting irrationally to a breakup with his beloved wife Nikki. Determined to end his painful “apart time” from Nikki and win her back, Pat—a former history teacher who now struggles to regain mental acuity—works out like a demon in his basement gym and runs many miles daily, while assiduously “practicing being kind rather than right.” This isn’t easy, given the cold shoulder offered Pat by his sullen father (who lives and dies by his beloved Philadelphia Eagles); the clumsy attempts of brother Jake and best friend Ronnie to revive the old convivial Pat; and the WASPish presence of Ronnie’s wife’s sister Tiffany, recently widowed and obsessed with newly buff Pat to a very scary degree. Deftly timed surprises stimulate crucial revelations, and the full truth of both Pat’s sufferings and his own egregious contributions to them expand the novel’s basically simple comic-domestic texture into something far more disturbing, complex and, eventually, quite moving. If the novel were 50 or so pages shorter, it might have been terrific. But Quick allows it to bulk up needlessly, concocting too many scenes (e.g., at Eagles games) that are too similar to one another. Still, its judicious blending of pop-culture experience with richly persuasive characterizations (including a beautiful indirect one of Pat’s overburdened mom) make the book a winner.

A first novel that doggedly does its own thing (we’re reminded of Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes). Most readers will find Pat just about irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-26426-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2008

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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