Smart, entertaining post-postmodernism, and with surfboards, too.

SOUND

Clever debut novel of the Jersey Shore and more urbane environs by hip-hop journo and Yale Law grad Wolf.

This isn’t the Jersey Shore of those twerpy MTV reality-TV types, but it is modestly Situationist in the '60s sense—surreal, political, a little unhinged, as if Kafka had learned to surf. The narrator has been sloughing off in grad school, but not for any want of intelligence or any Less Than Zero–like need to Hoover up the neighborhood; this guy is smart, smart, smart, “studying metaphysics and teleologies, string theory and eschatology,” but just a little misdirected. What to do? Well, once the university yanks his funding, he heads back home, soon to be haunted by visions of a lovely young thing named Vera. (Connect her name to “truth,” philosophical reader, for the symbolism runs thick in this book.) Vera is also smart, and unworldly, too—perhaps too much so for New Jersey. What to do? Well, have a beer, maybe hit the waves, maybe talk crap with buds who stayed back home and didn’t head into the Big City to get their Baudrillard on. In the end, not much happens, though Wolf can write a nice sentence. The smart and entertaining conceit about his book, the thing that makes it memorable, is the typographic treatment that distinguishes levels of noise—whether from a city street or a crowded party—by its bursts of sans serif and slab serif and demibold obliques, all set in various directions and in various point sizes, making this a feast for the eyes that is oddly reminiscent at turns of the late-'60s Tom Wolfe but assuredly of the here and now—in fact, a literary analog of a kind to the sonic effects Wilco pulls off in Jeff Tweedy’s anthem to clanging urban chaos, “Via Chicago.” It’s something David Foster Wallace might have tried, and in the experiment, Wolf acquits himself well.

Smart, entertaining post-postmodernism, and with surfboards, too. 

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-86547-850-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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