Original but disappointing.

SO LUCKY

A narrative of disability and its consequences.

An author of science fiction, thrillers, and historical fiction, Griffith (Hild, 2013, etc.) defies easy categorization. So does her latest novel. It has some of the elements of crime fiction, but its shape does not conform to the genre’s norms. Romantic relationships play a significant role in the plot, but this is certainly not a romance novel. This is, more than anything, a story about disability and how it shapes—and reshapes—people’s lives. The narrative begins with Mara Tagarelli’s longtime partner, Rose, leaving her for another woman. When Mara turns to Aiyana, one of her oldest friends, for comfort, their relationship turns sexual. But Aiyana’s job is taking her to New Zealand, so Mara is alone when she discovers that she has multiple sclerosis. As both the illness and the side effects of drug therapy take their toll, Mara is forced to step down as executive director of a multimillion-dollar AIDS organization. Her experience in that space gives her tools for advocating for herself and other people with MS, but her failing body challenges Mara’s sense of herself. She’s used to being strong and self-reliant, and now she is weak and dependent. She doubts that anyone can really want her. She is prickly about Rose’s offers of help, and she assumes that Aiyana has lost interest. Then MS sufferers on a mailing list Mara has compiled become the victims of violence, and she suspects that the perpetrators might be working their way toward her. There are plenty of compelling themes here, and this might have been an excellent novel if it had been half again as long. But everything feels rushed. Mara’s reaction to her disease is raw and honest, but readers only see her as caustic and difficult. Unpleasant protagonists can be compelling, of course, but, here, it’s easier to understand why Rose and Aiyana would ditch Mara than to understand why they stick with her. And the element of mystery is introduced late and resolved before it generates any real tension.

Original but disappointing.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-26592-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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