Keeping his own stylistic flamboyance in check, Boyle evokes a cultural flashpoint with implications that transcend acid...

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Once Timothy Leary opened the Pandora’s box of LSD, everything changed.

Few novelists have benefited more from the freedom unleashed by the psychedelic revolution than the prolific Boyle (The Relive Box, 2017, etc.), but here he shows a buttoned-down control over his material, a deadpan innocence in the face of seismic changes to come. It’s an East Coast novel of academia by the West Coast novelist, and it’s a little like reading Richard Yates on the tripping experience. The novel’s catalyst is Dr. Timothy Leary (“Tim” throughout), though Boyle has wisely opted not to make him the protagonist but instead a figure seen and idealized through the eyes of others. At the novel’s center is the nuclear family of Fitzhugh and Joanie Loney and their teenage son, Corey. Fitz has been struggling to support himself as a Harvard graduate student in psychology, one of Leary's advisees, though one who is, as the title says, on the “outside looking in” as the psychedelic hijinks commence. It isn’t long before Leary seduces his student into the inner circle, where Joanie joins them and the nucleus of this family starts to destabilize as they make themselves part of a larger communal tribe. All in the name of science, as Fitz continues to believe, though Leary soon finds himself ousted from Harvard, his work discredited, his students in limbo. Is he a radical, reckless visionary or a self-promoting huckster? Perhaps a little of both. Without advocating or sermonizing, and without indulging too much in the descriptions of sexual comingling and the obligatory acid tripping, Boyle writes of the 1960s to come from the perspective of the '60s that will be left behind. It is Leary’s inner circle that soon finds itself on the outside—outside the academy, society, and the law—living in its own bubble, a bubble that will burst once acid emerges from the underground and doses the so-called straight world. In the process, what was once a means to a scientific or spiritual end becomes a hedonistic end in itself. And Fitz finds his family, his future, his morals, and his mind at risk. “I could use a little less party and a little more purpose—whatever happened to that?” he asks, long after the balance has been tipped.

Keeping his own stylistic flamboyance in check, Boyle evokes a cultural flashpoint with implications that transcend acid flashbacks.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-288298-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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