An ambitious but deeply flawed look at life in the American West.

TWELVE QUIET MEN

THE STORY OF THE COWBOY VIGILANTES KNOWN AS STUART'S STRANGLERS AT WAR WITH THE OUTLAWS OF MONTANA AND DAKOTA IN 1884

Ranchers form a vigilante gang to run livestock thieves out of 1880s Montana.

The story begins with a gunshot, the first of hundreds that whiz through this action/adventure Western set on the plains of Montana and North Dakota in the twilight of the 19th century. In the first scene of the novel, a gang of livestock thieves kills a rancher at DHS Ranch, one of the largest cattle wrangling operations in the area. Fed up with the lack of law and order after being terrorized, the ranchers join together to take on the cattle thieves using any means necessary. The novel sweeps across the high plains, skipping from scenes of action to comedy. Little’s approach sets itself apart by including extensive regional histories, technical details and authentic depictions of ranch life. Despite the author’s admirable commitment to historical accuracy, these overly long sections cause the novel to grind to a halt, as if sections from a history essay and a how-to manual for ranchers have been inserted haphazardly into a Louis L’Amour novel. These parts reflect the author’s interests more than the demands of the story. More problematic, however, is the author’s shallow investigation of the moral implications of vigilantism. Though framed as righteous cowboys clearing the area of lawlessness, the moralistic raiders come off as bloodthirsty, not particularly appealing heroes willing to commit murder, arson, corpse mutilation and public intimidation to avenge crimes as minor as cattle theft and bootlegging. In effect, the novel trades emotional accuracy for technical accuracy, with brutal results.

An ambitious but deeply flawed look at life in the American West.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-1592995486

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Inkwater Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

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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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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

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THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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