The message is not subtle: Adoption is good, abortion should be a legal choice but is basically bad, men can be nice but are...

THE POSSIBILITY OF YOU

Separated by decades, three women face difficult choices about motherhood.

Redmond (Babes in Captivity, 2004, etc.) keeps her heroines’ stories separate for most of the novel, but readers will decipher the heavy-handed connections early on. Present-day Cait, now in her 30s, has been raised lovingly by her adoptive parents, middle-class, suburban Catholics. When she finds herself pregnant and in love with a fellow journalist she’s met while searching for a missing child—unbelievably sensitive Martin is married but his wife is a shrew and may be cheating on him too—she decides she must find her birth mother. In 1976 California, 19-year-old Billie is orphaned when her drugged-out father dies, but she finds letters that lead her to her wealthy grandmother Maude, a selfish but charming old woman dependent on her housekeeper Bridget. Billie moves into Maude’s Manhattan mansion as Maude's heir. She also begins to sleep with her African-American bisexual best friend Jupe. When she gets pregnant, medical student Jupe says he’s not ready to have a baby. Billie gives birth, suffers postpartum depression, is disowned by racist Maude and leaves the baby girl with Bridget. In 1916, Bridget is a newly arrived Irish nanny caring for Maude’s first son. A former Ziegfeld girl now married to a wealthy Jewish candy manufacturer, Maude runs in a suffragette circle and pays little attention to her baby, but when he dies suddenly she is distraught. Bridget is her main support, but Bridget is being wooed by George, Maude’s former chauffeur. Maude fires Bridget when she becomes pregnant and marries George. After his death in World War I, Bridget and her son are penniless. Maude takes her back on the condition that she can raise Bridget’s son as her own. By the time modern Cait has her baby, she is in the bosom of her family, genetic and adoptive. 

The message is not subtle: Adoption is good, abortion should be a legal choice but is basically bad, men can be nice but are basically irrelevant. 

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1642-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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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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