A sensitive look at complicated relationships that’s especially notable for the fascinatingly conflicted protagonist.

THE ITALIAN TEACHER

In his poignant latest, Rachman (The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, 2014, etc.) examines a life dominated by someone else’s art.

Pinch worships his father, noted painter Bear Bavinsky, although Bear’s behavior amply justifies the warning of Pinch's stepsister Birdie, daughter of the wife discarded for Pinch’s mother, Natalie: “Everything’s always about his art....He doesn’t hardly care about his actual creations…the human ones.” By the time Pinch is 15 in 1965, Bear has moved back to America from Italy and on to a third wife and more kids (eventual total: 17). Stuck in Rome with the increasingly unstable Natalie, Pinch desperately wants to stay connected to his elusive father. Rachman perfectly nails the charm with which Bear cloaks his selfishness and keeps his needy son both at a distance and firmly under his thumb. Bear skillfully deflects Pinch’s plea to come live with him by saying it wouldn’t be fair to Natalie and passes a devastating judgment on the boy’s fledgling paintings: “You’re not an artist. And you never will be.” Pinch goes to college in Toronto, planning to become an art historian and write his father’s biography, and it seems this will be the story of an impossible parent destroying a vulnerable offspring, especially after Bear sabotages Pinch’s first serious love affair and Pinch winds up teaching Italian at a Berlitz-style language school in London. But the balance of power between them shifts over the years in Rachman’s subtle rendering. Bear’s reputation goes into eclipse, and he confides the unsold paintings in his remote French cottage to Pinch, whom he trusts to protect his legacy. The way Pinch claims some turf for himself while remaining entangled in Bear’s shadow leads to an ironic conclusion that also shimmers with love and regret. Pinch’s best friend and late-in-life lover, two of the novel’s many finely rendered secondary characters, drink a rueful toast to a man who refused to be anyone’s victim—except maybe his own.

A sensitive look at complicated relationships that’s especially notable for the fascinatingly conflicted protagonist.

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2269-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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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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