Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.


Dixon's new collection explores the heart of an aging man's life.

Why isn’t Dixon a household name? The author of more than 30 novels and collections of short stories, he is regarded, when he is regarded, as a “writer’s writer,” which is about as backhanded as a compliment can get. Yet his writing, which is plainspoken and deceptively straightforward, is the sort that sticks with you, because it cuts to the uncertainty of life. His new collection is a case in point: 31 linked stories about a writer named Philip Seidel, who is wrestling with the depredations of age. Seidel’s chronology and Dixon’s overlap—both live and work in Baltimore (Dixon taught writing at Johns Hopkins for many years) and both are recently widowed (Dixon’s wife, the poet and translator Anne Frydman, died of complications from multiple sclerosis in 2009). But don’t let that confuse you into thinking these efforts are thinly veiled autobiography. Rather, they offer moment-by-moment deep dives into longing and despair and forgetfulness, memory and fantasy. In the opening story, “Wife in Reverse,” Dixon traces the dynamic of a marriage in a page and a half, beginning with the death of the protagonist’s spouse and ending with their first meeting three decades before. In the second, he imagines the paralyzing loss of an adult child. What he is evoking is possibility, conditionality, the sense that everything could change, or fall apart, in any given instant. That this is the essence of fiction goes without saying; it has been the impetus behind Dixon’s project all along. And yet, in this stirring and heartfelt book, Dixon goes beyond loss into the kind of preservation that only literature can provide. That’s not to say his stories traffic in illusion; perhaps projection is a better word. “Remember” delineates, in excruciating detail, the slow forgetting of its aging protagonist (“He feels his fly. It’s open; forgot again. Makes him even more worried about himself”), while the stunning “Just What Is” and “Just What Is Not” investigate two sides of an affair that never was, highlighting the tension between inner and outer life. In the end, nothing happens, although, of course, everything does. Or, as Dixon observes in the transcendent “Missing Out,” which imagines an alternate life in which Seidel never met the wife who has left him widowed: “Nothing. I told you. It was all in my head. Was I in dreamland? You bet. Not that she would have been interested in me.”

Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940430-87-4

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Curbside Splendor

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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

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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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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