Mian’s grasp of sordid detail is firm and sure, but the nasty high that Candy produces doesn’t linger, and probably isn’t...

CANDY

Comparisons to Bright Lights, Big City and other Brat Pack landmarks surround this infamous autobiographical first novel (already banned in China).

It’s a morose tale of “Loneliness, apathy, misery, helplessness, depression, and self-loathing”: the story of Hong, a 17-year-old girl who runs away from her Shanghai school and family in 1986, ending up in the bustling, effectively lawless southern city of Shenzen in China's “New Economic Zone.” Hong drifts about, getting into trouble, working briefly as a nightclub singer, exchanging stab wounds with a particularly creepy boyfriend, then losing her virginity to Saining, a conflicted, weak-willed pop-rock guitarist and composer. The pair can neither live together nor apart, as Saining becomes a heroin addict, passing on both his habit and his self-destructive sensibility to Hong, who experiments with numerous ways to further ravage her frail body (she's asthmatic) until she's injured in a gang war and brought back to a Shanghai hospital by her clueless father. Then guess what? She turns to writing as therapy (“a method of transforming corruption and decay into something wonderful and miraculous”), takes a bisexual lover, offers comfort and sympathy to acquaintances stalked by AIDS, and hesitantly readmits the supposedly reformed Saining back into her life, as both are approaching 30 and ostensibly too mature to keep tearing themselves and each other to pieces. Candy is a mercifully quick read: lots of action, many clichés (which probably aren't the fault of Lingenfelter's brisk translation), an abundance of clipped dialogue festooned with trendy obscenities and explicitly detailed sex. Interpolated anecdotal portrayals of other restless youths hell-bent on early death provide some variation, but little relief. We're stuck with Hong's smug, essentially unconvincing declarations of self-reclamation and enlightenment.

Mian’s grasp of sordid detail is firm and sure, but the nasty high that Candy produces doesn’t linger, and probably isn’t all that good for you.

Pub Date: July 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-316-56356-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Back Bay/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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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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