COAL BLACK HORSE

The Civil War turns a boy into a man in Olmstead’s latest novel (after Stay Here with Me, 1996, etc.).

In 1863, a woman on a farm in the mountains, far removed from battle, has a premonition that tells her the war is over. The fighting might continue, but she knows that the outcome has been decided. She wants her husband to come home, and she sends her 14-year-old son to find him. Since Robey knows that this quest means the end of his childhood, he doesn’t want to go. And his mother doesn’t want to send him. But both have fated roles in this austere, elegiac fairy tale. Like all folkloric heroes, Robey is given gifts to help him on his journey, but the greatest is the coal black horse. The boy is smart enough to know that the horse is smarter than he is, and he allows the animal to be his protector and guide. As he travels across a country at war with itself, Robey sees chaos and carnage—not just soldiers killed by soldiers, but families murdered by unknown killers and women and girls brutalized by bestial men. The actual battlefield is a bedlam of dead men, dying men and scavengers who do not distinguish between the two. Olmstead juxtaposes scenes of man-made desolation with quietly lyrical depictions of the landscape and the animals that inhabit it—including the coal black horse—but he doesn’t sharpen the contrast between disparate phenomena so much as he evinces a primordial universe: a time before gods, before morality, a time in which war is as natural and inevitable as birdsong in the morning. If the story ends on a hopeful note, it’s not because Robey has found redemption or meaning—neither is available in the world to which he’s traveled. It is because, while death is relentless and indomitable, life is, too.

Powerful and poetic.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 1-56512-521-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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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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There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

TELL ME LIES

Passion, friendship, heartbreak, and forgiveness ring true in Lovering's debut, the tale of a young woman's obsession with a man who's "good at being charming."

Long Island native Lucy Albright, starts her freshman year at Baird College in Southern California, intending to study English and journalism and become a travel writer. Stephen DeMarco, an upperclassman, is a political science major who plans to become a lawyer. Soon after they meet, Lucy tells Stephen an intensely personal story about the Unforgivable Thing, a betrayal that turned Lucy against her mother. Stephen pretends to listen to Lucy's painful disclosure, but all his thoughts are about her exposed black bra strap and her nipples pressing against her thin cotton T-shirt. It doesn't take Lucy long to realize Stephen's a "manipulative jerk" and she is "beyond pathetic" in her desire for him, but their lives are now intertwined. Their story takes seven years to unfold, but it's a fast-paced ride through hookups, breakups, and infidelities fueled by alcohol and cocaine and with oodles of sizzling sexual tension. "Lucy was an itch, a song stuck in your head or a movie you need to rewatch or a food you suddenly crave," Stephen says in one of his point-of-view chapters, which alternate with Lucy's. The ending is perfect, as Lucy figures out the dark secret Stephen has kept hidden and learns the difference between lustful addiction and mature love.

There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6964-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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