Superb atmospherics and dramatic timing coupled with arresting storylines. A promising start, if sobering for readers unused...

WE COME TO OUR SENSES

STORIES

Memorable, even haunting tales of war and peace—two states of being that, in debut author Lindsey’s hands, are hard to tell apart.

“The bars having closed at midnight, we turn to guns.” So opens the title story, which, like the other pieces here, is largely set in the South, but a South not of stately magnolias and antebellum mansions but of dilapidated row houses ready to crumble into overflowing rivers, of chemically altered men and women nursing wounds physical and mental, of days spent with beer cans under ceiling fans before reruns on old televisions that would be better taken outside and shot. Those men and women have been to far-off deserts to fight, and they have seen horrible things and then come home to horrible situations. In the opening story, a woman whose just-barely-running car is making noises “like the collision of track gears on an M113A3 personnel carrier” endures an abusive boss, a dead-end job, and memories of a playful dog shot dead by the guys in the motor pool; so awful is her daily existence that she carefully plans a suicide that she can’t carry out because she is so constantly harried. In such a scenario, annual evaluations are as lethal to the spirit as IEDs are to the body. Civilians, too, are generally useless, like the gangbangers in one pensive story who fire off a few rounds, prompting a vet to protest, “You do NOT engage combat outside of an official combat zone.” But here the combat zone has extended to cover parking lots, bowling alleys, offices, everywhere, as inexorable as kudzu. Revisiting and building on themes from one story to the next, Lindsey writes with quiet confidence and sometimes arch humor that invites comparison to Ben Fountain and Phil Klay but that wouldn’t displease Flannery O’Connor.

Superb atmospherics and dramatic timing coupled with arresting storylines. A promising start, if sobering for readers unused to the grim realities of war.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24960-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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