Acidly funny send-up of Russia’s current state of affairs that challenges the status quo with embellished wit and outlandish...

DAY OF THE OPRICHNIK

In the near future, a member of a government-sponsored goon squad bears witness to the skewed and skewered state of Mother Russia.

Perhaps no other postmodern writer demonstrates the angst around the reemergence of Russia’s slide back toward authoritarianism than the celebrated (and often reviled) satirist Sorokin (Ice, 2007, etc). His latest assault, not only on Putin’s government but literary senses, is a caustic, slash-and-burn portrait of a man joyfully engaged in the business of state-initiated terrorism. Our narrator is Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, a gleefully enthusiastic member of the Oprichniki. Originally formed by Ivan the Terrible to torture and murder enemies of the Tsar, the Oprichniks are resurrected in 2028 for much the same reason. Andrei is close to Tsar Nikolai Platonovich, who rules with an equally iron fist. The new Tsar laid the foundation of the Western Wall 16 years earlier, fencing the country off from all foreign influence, as its citizens burned their passports in Red Square. There are wildly hallucinogenic elements to Sorokin’s odd future—genetically modified fish are used as recreational drugs, while the tightly controlled news is delivered straight to the brain. But it all exists to add pitch to the author’s frenzied, dystopian satire. His hero is a piece of work—patriotic to a fault and enraptured by his duty. “This work is—passionate, and absolutely necessary,” Andrei tells us. “It gives us more strength to overcome the enemies of the Russian state. Even this succulent work requires a certain seriousness. You have to start and finish by seniority. So this time, I’m first.” This chillingly lucid monologue is delivered as the fervent Oprichnik prepares to rape the widow of an already murdered dissident. It’s disturbing stuff, but as Sorokin’s razor-sharp caricature unfolds, bouncing from cocktail parties to assassinations to team-building orgies, the novelist’s keen argument becomes hard to ignore.

Acidly funny send-up of Russia’s current state of affairs that challenges the status quo with embellished wit and outlandish violence.

Pub Date: March 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-13475-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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THE PRINCE OF TIDES

A NOVEL

A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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