by Rick Bass ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 14, 2010
An odd yet oddly affecting book.
Based on the career arc of a 1950s singing trio, this mythic novel is sadder than most country songs and stranger than any.
A book that defies categorization, and that reads more like cultural criticism than fictionalized biography, this narrative about the “bondage of fame” represents a radical departure for Bass (The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana, 2009, etc.). Where the author writes often about the natural world in both his fiction and nonfiction, here he treats the Browns, a sibling country group remembered mainly for “The Three Bells,” as if they were fate’s playthings: “It had to be a freak of nature, a phenomenon, a mutation of history,” he proclaims of their harmonies. “As if some higher order had decided to use them as puppets—to hold them hostage to the powerful gifts whose time it was to emerge.” The narrative tone is often so portentously oracular and deliriously hyperbolic that the reader wonders whether there’s some irony intended, particularly when the grasp of the facts seems tenuous. Yet the descent of Maxine Brown into alcoholism and anonymity is ultimately tragic, as the narrative alternates between her bitter memories “after nearly fifty years of being forgotten” and the formative years of the Browns, whose sound “healed some deep wound within whoever heard it, whatever the wound.” Supporting players include Elvis Presley (for whom Bonnie Brown was his one true love, according to this account), Jim Reeves and Chet Atkins, though this is a novel less about individual characters than about “the heartbreak of immortality and the bitterness of pursuing it,” and how “the most constant thing in the world is change.” At the mercy of fate’s furies, the three Browns arrive at very different destinies, leaving Maxine to wonder whether “her life has been a huge mistake, a huge tragedy of waste and squander.”An odd yet oddly affecting book.
Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010
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by Kristin Hannah ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 3, 2015
Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.
Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.
In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.
Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015
Page Count: 448
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014
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by Madeline Miller ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 10, 2018
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
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018
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