The rest of the book is punctuated by sharp insights and wry observations on the human condition, featuring strong,...



Over several decades, in small towns scattered throughout North Carolina and Tennessee, young and old couples attempt to connect in Earley’s (The Blue Star, 2008, etc.) quirky and penetrating story collection.

In “Haunted Castles of the Barrier Isles,” a long-married couple is bereft when their only child, a college freshman, is less than happy to see them during a surprise birthday visit. With nothing better to do, the couple embarks on a trip to the nearby barrier islands, where they wander into a lackluster beach resort soon to be swallowed up by the encroaching ocean. This desultory vacation is colored by the shock and disappointment of the college visit, and their resulting marital crisis is described with mastery and subtlety. In "Mr. Tall," 16-year-old newlywed Plutina Scroggs sets off in 1932 with her new husband on a seemingly endless rail and mule journey from her hometown to his remote mountain cottage. Earley conveys with genuine humor and insight Plutina’s bewilderment about sex and her initial regrets about the hasty marriage. Plutina later becomes obsessed with her never-glimpsed nearest neighbor, a hermit known as Mr. Tall, during the long weeks she spends alone. These first two stories are the strongest and most memorable of the collection. Additional tales are linked through the use of repeating characters; Plutina reappears as an aging neighbor in “The Cryptozoologist,” in which a new widow becomes infatuated with the yetilike “skunk apes” she glimpses in the woods behind her home. In “Just Married,” a collection of shorter anecdotes, characters appear and cleverly reappear in different phases of their lives with different partners. The only misstep in the book is the novella "Jack and the Mad Dog," a well-crafted but tedious postmodern fable about “THAT Jack, the giant-killer of the stories,” that is out of keeping with the rest of the collection.

The rest of the book is punctuated by sharp insights and wry observations on the human condition, featuring strong, idiosyncratic characters having small epiphanies in their small towns.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-24612-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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