Unlike McCrumb’s Ballad tales, which dramatized the convergence of multiple generations, this patchwork daringly leaves each...

GHOST RIDERS

A sprawling, multilayered tale: Deep, deep under the surface of Union and Confederate ideology teem the Appalachian folk for whom “the wrong side was to take a side” in the War Between the States.

Ever since Appomattox, a company of spectral soldiers has ridden the woods, inviting the few people who can see them to join their ranks. As an encampment of Civil War re-enactors gathers in the Tennessee hills and Wake County Sheriff Spencer Arrowood seeks information on the ancestor who was the very last casualty of the war, McCrumb, in the prismatic manner of her Ballad series (The Songcatcher, 2001, etc.), brings alive a time in which nearly every family had relatives fighting on both Union and Confederate sides and peoples it with figures drawn from history. When Keith Blalock, a Union sympathizer surrounded by secessionists, is drafted into the Confederate army, he’s followed by his wife Malinda, who disguises herself as a boy to watch over him until he sneaks off to become a pilot for strangers fleeing north—and an avenging fugitive from his neighbors and the law. At the other end of the scale, not even the best-connected citizens feel masters of the war’s political realities. Zebulon Vance, a Smokey Mountain Gatsby, rises to the state legislature and the US Congress before the war raises him to military command and then strands him in the North Carolina governor’s mansion, where his ritual promises to do the best he can for myriad petitioners ring hollow even in his own ears. McCrumb counterpoints these stories of the personal side of war with the contemporary confusion of the re-enactors and the story of Tom Gentry, who’s come to the mountains to die.

Unlike McCrumb’s Ballad tales, which dramatized the convergence of multiple generations, this patchwork daringly leaves each story suspended, linked only by the inconclusive verdicts of history and the rush of ghost riders bound for glory.

Pub Date: July 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-525-94718-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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