Reminiscent of one of those wonderful 19th-century doorstop novels.

LUMBERVILLE SEVEN

A story of coming-of-age, of nurturing and of the fact that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. Or to raise seven of them, for that matter.

Novelist Rosa (Reflections on a Stone, 2011, etc.) takes Lumberville, Penn., on the Delaware River, and peoples it with very memorable characters in the early 20th century. Angelo Giusto, though only 9, is the oldest of the seven orphaned Giustos who have been scattered from Brooklyn to orphanages far and wide. He plans to find all his siblings and make the family whole again. At the outset, he becomes the protector of a little African-American orphan boy, James Houston, who is picked on mercilessly. Fearless Angelo becomes James’ hero. Hearing that two of the Giusto brothers have been sent to Kansas, Angelo and James resolve to get there somehow and bring them back. But they get only as far as Lumberville, the village that welcomes and nurtures them. The main characters are Angelo and Penny Brown, a woman who has lost her only child and whose callow husband has run off. Penny, like Angelo, is tough, resourceful, and relentlessly optimistic. Civil War veteran and amputee Zeke Thompson comes out of a previous Rosa novel (Zeke Thompson, American Hero, 2011) to oversee the boys’ upbringing and is ably assisted by the ingenious and perceptive Frank Martin, a man with a mysterious past. Lumberville is an idyllic place, and the reader is reminded of Tom Sawyer’s Missouri village, or Mayberry, RFD. But there are real toads in this garden, and the good guys—just as protective of the children as Angelo is of James—find and root them out. Rosa is a gifted storyteller who makes hardly a misstep. And at 500 pages, she does not stint. An afterword tells us just who in Rosa’s real life inspired these characters. And for those who like a Dickensian sweep, the novel ends with a grand retrospective of what the Giusto kids, all grown up, have made of their lives as the midcentury nears.

Reminiscent of one of those wonderful 19th-century doorstop novels.

Pub Date: June 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1453845790

Page Count: 518

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 17

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more