Students of both Capote and the short story will find this instructive and entertaining—and, if somewhat unformed still,...

THE EARLY STORIES OF TRUMAN CAPOTE

Gathering of the great American prose stylist’s earliest pieces, published for the first time.

Some of those pieces are very far from Park Avenue. In the first, a teenage Capote (Summer Crossing, 2005, etc.) serves up an odd vignette concerning a young hobo and his older, wizened friend of the road. “Ma an’ them don’t know I been bummin’ around the country for the last two years; they think I’m a traveling salesman,” the youngster says, just before the older man helps himself to a ten-spot his companion has been guarding against the day that he can wash up, buy a suit, and head home. The moment of their parting is worthy of de Maupassant. So it is, too, when Capote, Alabaman by upbringing if not inclination, turns in another Southern-fried piece, this one involving a gaggle of kids, a snakebite, and a chicken or three. “The ulcers were burning like mad from the poison,” Capote writes in a fine closing, “and she felt sick all over when she thought of what she had done.” Capote might have become another Flannery O’Connor had he stuck to his home turf, but instead he relocated to New York, and several of the later stories here reflect that change of venue. Now his characters are more urbane and decidedly more privileged: “The girl had had excellent letters from the Petite Ecole in France and the Mantone Academy in Switzerland.” Excellent letters or no, the story in question marks what will become a typical Capote ploy, a scenario of roiling jealousies and intrigue under a superficially calm cover. Another reveals Capote’s trademark strangeness, too: “It’s one thing to lose a leg,” harrumphs one character, “but it’s too much to lose an election because of someone else’s stupidity.” Amputations, petty larceny, and noblesse oblige: it’s all of a piece, and all that’s missing are the chameleons.

Students of both Capote and the short story will find this instructive and entertaining—and, if somewhat unformed still, very readable all the same.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9822-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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