Firing on all circuits, from psychological insight to cultural acuity to narrative strategy to very smart humor. Quite a...

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FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE

It's not like Fleishman's estranged wife, a high-powered talent agent, was ever a very involved mother. But now she's dropped off the kids—while he was asleep—and disappeared.

New York Times Magazine staff writer Brodesser-Akner's debut novel tracks Manhattan hepatologist Toby Fleishman through a painful divorce whose sting is mitigated somewhat by the wonders of his dating app. "Toby changed his search parameters to thirty-eight to forty-one, then forty to fifty, what the hell, and it was there that he found his gold mine: endlessly horny, sexually curious women who knew their value, who were feeling out something new, and whose faces didn't force him to have existential questions about youth and responsibility." About 30 pages in, we learn that the narrator is an old friend named Elizabeth “Libby” Slater, whom he met when both were college students on a year abroad in Israel. After the separation, his therapist advised Toby to reconnect with old friends; not having heard from him in years, Libby is at first nonplussed when he calls. A magazine journalist with a stalled career, she lives out in New Jersey, where she's no happier with motherhood than Toby's ex—she describes another male friend's future marriage as "He [would] find someone young and take her life away by finally having children." Toby Fleishman is a man plagued by his height (or at least he is in Libby's account; this narrative strategy raises questions), and he has never recovered from being chubby as a child; he's on a permanent no-carb, no-fat, no-sugar diet which qualifies as an eating disorder. He's a devoted father, but he's also a doctor who's angling for promotion and a man who's trying to take advantage of the unbridled lust of middle-aged women, so his wife's mysterious disappearance is infuriating. And a little scary. Toby is a wonderful character; Libby's narrative voice is funny, smart, and a little bitter as she tells his story, and some of hers as well. You get the feeling she wants to write a novel like (the fictional) Decoupling, an outrageous, bestselling, canonical account of divorce written by one of the stars at her old magazine. Perhaps she has.

Firing on all circuits, from psychological insight to cultural acuity to narrative strategy to very smart humor. Quite a debut!

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51087-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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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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