A very funny novel when it isn’t so sad, and vice versa.

THE LOVE SONG OF JONNY VALENTINE

A provocative and bittersweet illumination of celebrity from the perspective of an 11-year-old pop sensation.

In his second novel (Kapitoil, 2010), Wayne once again sees American culture through the eyes of an exceptional outsider—in this case, a pre-pubescent pop star managed by his mother and exploited by everyone involved with his life and career. As the novel’s narrator, Jonny is a complex character who is both wise beyond his years (in the areas of marketing, merchandising and branding) and more naïve in relating to others his age and the world beyond show business. He seems most at home either onstage or in the video game that becomes a metaphor for his life. And if the novel has a weakness, it’s that Wayne seems a little too fond of the telegraphed punch of such symbolism, as when Jonny must write a paper for his tutor about slavery and discovers (surprise!) that much of what he has learned applies to him. Yet, Jonny is such an engaging, sympathetic character that his voice carries the novel, from what he does know (“that was the whole point of becoming a rock star for a lot of guys. I didn’t know that when I started out, but once you see seriously ugly bassists backstage with models, you figure it out”) to what he doesn’t (crucial details about his mother, father, family and career). Rather than turning Jonny into a caricature or a figure of scorn the way some of his critics do (“a cult of personality swirling around a human being who...may not be in possession of...an actual personality”), the novel invites the reader inside Jonny’s fishbowl, showing what it takes to gain and sustain what he has and how easily he could lose it. Best of all is his relationship with an artist who made it through this arduous rite of passage, the Timberlake to Jonny’s Bieber, who teaches him that “The people with real power are always behind the scenes. Talent gets chewed up and used. Better to be the one chewing.”

A very funny novel when it isn’t so sad, and vice versa.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0585-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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THE SECRET HISTORY

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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