Precisely structured and abounding with memorable characters, this novel invokes the past while feeling decidedly relevant...

A FUGITIVE IN WALDEN WOODS

The protagonist of Lock’s latest novel escapes from slavery and falls in with a group of transcendentalist thinkers in New England.

Lock’s fiction frequently takes as its starting point a pre-existing idea or creative work ranging from colonialist delusions to Antarctic exploration and then pushes it in strange and unexpected directions. Each installment of his American Novels series riffs on an existing work or creator of 19th-century art: The Boy in His Winter (2014) sent Huckleberry Finn adrift in time, while The Port-Wine Stain (2016) channeled Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of mystery and dread. His latest novel is among his most restrained works and one of his most powerful. It is presented as the narrative of Samuel Long, a man who flees the horrors of slavery in the 1840s and makes his way north, where he links up with a group of the pre-eminent American thinkers of the time–Henry David Thoreau among them. Lock neatly captures the intellectual collegiality and sharp conversations among his characters. But the novel doesn’t lose sight of the gulf between Samuel and his friends—as someone whose escape to the North cost him one of his hands, Samuel has little patience for the others' more metaphorical invocations of slavery. The novel’s subtle but charged narrative also neatly shows the different social worlds through which Samuel moves and how prominent thinkers can vary greatly. The book’s closing image is a powerful one, both in keeping with the work of some of the literary figures invoked in its pages and in terms of larger questions of race and privilege in America.

Precisely structured and abounding with memorable characters, this novel invokes the past while feeling decidedly relevant to contemporary issues and debates.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942-658-22-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

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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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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