An egregious misstep in an otherwise estimable career.

THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES

A retired insurance salesman returns to his native Brooklyn to die—and is instead recalled to life—in Auster’s uncharacteristically upbeat 12th novel (Oracle Night, 2003, etc.).

Nathan Glass, approaching 60 and diagnosed with lung cancer, has a lot to die for: He’s long divorced, estranged from his adult daughter, exhausted from years of toiling for Mid-Atlantic Accident and Life. Then, like an Iris Murdoch character, he becomes involved in others’ lives and experiences the gratifications of contingency. Nathan’s nephew Tom Wood has forsaken a promising academic career, gone to seed and settled for an unrewarding job at Brightman’s Attic, a used bookstore run by “born prankster” Harry Dunkel (aka Brightman), a gay art and manuscript forger who, during impassioned bull sessions with Tom and Nathan, discloses his hopeful vision of an imaginary utopian “Hotel Existence” (which echoes Tom’s abandoned thesis on “Imaginary Edens” in classic American literature). The plot keeps thickening with the arrival of Nathan’s nine-year-old great-niece Lucy, daughter of Aurora (“Rory”), Tom’s promiscuous, drug-addled, vagrant sister. A trip to Vermont brings serendipitous accidents, ends at a country inn that’s the incarnation of Harry’s idealized fantasy and gives Tom a second chance at fulfillment. But “accident and life” break in, returning the principal characters to Brooklyn to rearrange their lives and relationships—a pattern, re-echoed at the conclusion, in which Nathan survives and looks to the future, on the verge of an ominously significant Date in Recent History. The novel is energized throughout by fancy symbolic footwork, and intermittently by Nathan’s habit of recording “the slapstick moments of everyday life” in a loose gathering of jottings he calls The Book of Human Folly. But it’s hard to be ironic and warm and fuzzy simultaneously, and the American novelist who most closely resembles England’s Ian McEwan really shouldn’t try to be Anne Tyler (or, God help him, Nicholas Sparks).

An egregious misstep in an otherwise estimable career.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2005

ISBN: 0-8050-7714-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2005

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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