A compelling portrait wrapped inside a less compelling international plot.

IN OUR OTHER LIVES

The third book from Wheeler (Kings of Broken Things, 2017, etc.) has the form of a post–9/11 thriller, but it's really a psychological novel: What are the mysteries that surveillance can't lay bare, that sleuthing can't solve or pin down?

It's 2008. Tyler Ahls, a former ROTC cadet and Christian missionary from Wisconsin who disappeared months earlier on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, appears in a terrorist propaganda video, startling his sister, Elisabeth Holland, an Omaha nurse. Elisabeth is no stranger to tragedy; three years earlier, her husband abruptly drove away from their Chicago apartment, disappearing without a trace; soon after, their infant son died suddenly. Now, after the propaganda video, FBI Special Agent Frank Schwaller—who, thanks to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant and a resulting mass of surveillance data, knows much, much more than Elisabeth does about both brother and husband—comes to Omaha to see if he can unravel the knot of connections between and among these three. The novel's strength is in its portrait of the stoic, tough, but uncynical Elisabeth. Her coping mechanism through all the trials of her life—overbearing and hyperreligious evangelical Christian parents, a private-college experience curtailed by an injury that took away her athletic scholarship, runaway husband, the shocking death of her child—has been to move briskly along and then shelter in place, not delving too deeply into her own motives or anyone else's. It's not that she's incurious; it's that she knows that investigating the whereabouts or motives of those who've left her will avail her nothing. That attitude makes her a subject of fascination for Schwaller. Other elements of the book don't quite coalesce, and sometimes details, especially those about federal law enforcement and surveillance, don't quite ring true, but Elisabeth fascinates.

A compelling portrait wrapped inside a less compelling international plot.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1651-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Little A

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 17

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more