One of Delbanco’s most attractive and accessible books.

WHAT REMAINS

Delbanco’s elegiac and elegant 13th novel (Old Scores, 1997) gathers the voices of a family of German emigrant Jews to describe their “escapes” (to London, then America) from Hitler’s persecution, and their mourning for the high culture betrayed and destroyed by the Nazi regime.

The family’s stories are framed by scenes set in 1996, during primary narrator (Americanized) Benjamin’s return, in middle age, to England for a visit with his dapper Uncle Gustave, an art dealer and enthusiast sustained on into old age by his love of beautiful things (years earlier, describing a purchase, Gustave had observed that “In a world . . . so full of willed barbarity, it is important that a picture with a shepherd be acquired and a claim be lodged for lastingness”). Other voices, speaking during the years 1944–64, include those of the young Benjamin and his older brother Jacob, growing up during the Blitz and amid muttered references to “Schicklgruber . . . the devil incarnate.” Delbanco creates telling indirect characterizations of their father Karl, a would-be artist who settled for becoming the dutiful son (unlike his brother Gustave) and went into business, eventually prospering (as owner of a “bristle factory”); and their neurasthenic mother Julia, embittered by the loss of the scholarly career she had sought in Germany, and by the (gratuitous and utterly false) suspicion that her husband is anything but a model of fidelity and decency. The best character here, however, is haughty “Granny” Elsa, kept alive by the wisdom of her beloved Boethius’s Consolations [sic] of Philosophy and memories of her late husband, taken by cancer before the Nazis could take him. These portraits and reminiscences are episodic, and to some degree static, but What Remains is often very moving, especially for its precise discriminations between going beyond what was lost and embracing “what remains” (in a resonant phrase ingeniously adapted from Ezra Pound).

One of Delbanco’s most attractive and accessible books.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52416-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2000

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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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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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