A historical novel that fires off a few surprises.

Death Poem

In McClements’ debut novel, an elderly veteran of the first world war reveals a lifetime of secrets, pain, and regret.

In 1974, a well-dressed man in his late 70s named Sean Devaney is contemplating committing suicide. Patrick Brennan, a dissolute stranger looking to perform a good deed, stumbles upon Devaney and intervenes. Over a bottle of Irish whiskey, Brennan coaxes Devaney into discussing his life story and the cause of his anguish. Devaney begins with his childhood as a poor farm boy in upstate New York. Through a combination of hard work and a bequest from a local patroness, Devaney is able to attend Columbia University with the goal of becoming a journalist. Devaney finds a circle of school pals, and together, they have the time of their lives. Their undergraduate fun comes to an end when the United States enters World War I, and the friends all enter the Marine Corps. Following boot camp, they are sent to France, where they encounter the horrors of trench warfare. Devaney, wounded in battle, begins A Farewell to Arms–style romance with a nurse named Lynn. However, this novel is a bit more complex than the classic war story it initially seems to be. Devaney and his friends encounter heinous crimes committed under the cover of the chaos of war. In the postwar years, the four veterans act to rectify these injustices. The plot is full of unexpected twists—even if they occasionally come about thanks to a deus ex machina—with street fights and armed combat providing plenty of action. McClements’ strong knowledge of history adds verisimilitude to these scenes. While Devaney is a strong, pathos-filled character, many of the secondary characters are thinly drawn, particularly female characters, who say things like “you are no gentleman, but you are somewhat handsome and quite dashing” and usually do nothing but sit around waiting for men to bed them or save them from other, coarser men. Ultimately, though, Devaney’s twisting path and tortured soul will keep readers engaged to the end.

A historical novel that fires off a few surprises. 

Pub Date: July 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6826-6

Page Count: 412

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2016

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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