A complicated and promising debut that spoofs the current health culture craze even as it anticipates its appalling...

SUICIDE CLUB

In a frighteningly plausible future, the economy revolves around the currency of health, life spans are potentially eternal, and the new have-nots are born with poverty encoded in their genes.

Lea Kirino is a career Lifer. At 100 years old, she is already high up the ladder at the Healthfin fund, where she spends her days working with clients whose fortunes are invested in the organ trade—mostly hearts, lungs, and livers. A stringent devotee of the shadowy Ministry’s recommendations for maximum life expectancy, Lea and her equally genetically pedigreed fiance, Todd, are perfectly poised to join the long-rumored Third Wave. If chosen to receive newly developed life-prolonging treatments, Lea’s expected life span of 300 years might be extended indefinitely through a combination of organ replacement, enhancements, nutrient and exercise regimes, and, of course, strict avoidance of cortisol-increasing activities like listening to music or looking at art. Yet, even with immortality at stake, Lea can’t let go of the complications of her past—her brother’s death, her own violent impulses, the disappearance of her “antisanct” father, Kaito, who turned his back on the family 88 years ago and hasn’t been seen since. When Kaito suddenly returns, his radical influence stirs up Lea’s own unruly impulses and exposes her to scrutiny from the Ministry. His presence also has the unintended consequence of introducing her into the inner circle of the Suicide Club—a group of well-connected rebels who choose the crime of death over the sentence of eternal life—forcing Lea to decide if living means the experience of life or adherence to the cult of immortality that has replaced all other forms of culture in this speculative New York of the future. Heng expertly threads a ribbon of dread through her glittering vistas and gleaming characters; however, the plot is so solidly foreshadowed that the climax, when it comes, feels almost preordained. This speaks to the intricacy of the world Heng has created and sets a dark mirror against the robotic bureaucracy of the Ministry's oversight that assigns at birth "an algorithm [that] decides who lives and who doesn't" so as not to waste resources on anyone with subpar genetic potential. Unfortunately, it also undercuts the author's considerable skill at rendering her characters in all their solid, bodily reality by making their actions seem less like startling acts of free will and more like functions of an overweening plot.

A complicated and promising debut that spoofs the current health culture craze even as it anticipates its appalling culmination.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-18534-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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