Spencer’s writing is always a pleasure.

AN OCEAN WITHOUT A SHORE

The romantic obsession hidden beneath the surface of his closest male friendship warps the life of a seemingly straight, supersuccessful financier.

Spencer continues to mine the dramatic possibilities of his fictional Hudson Valley town of Leyden; the current book is a sequel to River Under the Road (2017), including most of the characters. Back in the 1970s, Kip Woods was Thaddeus Kaufman and Grace Cornell’s druggie New York friend with a job at EF Hutton. He’s still in finance, making really big bucks at a high-end investment firm; his persona is now more The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit than Bright Lights, Big City. However, Grace’s suspicion, never officially confirmed, that he was “queer” turns out to be on the money. Kip has been secretly in love with Thaddeus since their college days in Ann Arbor, so when Thaddeus calls for help early one morning in 1997, Kip is there in a heartbeat. Back when Thaddeus’ screenwriting career was flying high in the early '80s, he bought an estate in Leyden called Orkney. But “houses like that are like dope habits—they only get more and more expensive,” and meanwhile, Thaddeus’ career has tanked completely. How can Kip help his friend? The first suggestion is that he buy a little piece of Orkney and hold it until Thaddeus can raise the scratch to buy it back. After that fails to fix everything, a much more problematic idea is vaunted. A character who understands the true dynamic of the friendship tells Kip flat-out in Chapter 3, “He will destroy you.” Dum-dum-dum. While it’s not hard to imagine Kip hiding his crush on Thaddeus for decades, it’s a struggle to accept his completely closeted, self-hating persona—he seems to be from a slightly earlier era. But you’ll stick around for gems like these: “The spurned lover has only been rejected by one, maybe two people. The spurned artist has been rejected by the world.” “Infidelity is an avenue to adventure available to all, rich and poor…anyone who feels crushed by the dailiness of settled life, anyone who needs a window in a life that suddenly seems all walls.” “I can only tell you what you already know: ego is the sworn enemy of happiness.”

Spencer’s writing is always a pleasure.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-285162-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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