THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN

This is the most important book Wallace Stegner has done, and he has been marked as "a comer" ever since his memorable novelette, Remembering Laughter. The title of this novel is symbolic (the search for the promise over the mountain — frustrated dreams of power and wealth and happiness); though the mountain itself — yes, with that incredible name — is background for one brief span of happiness. Bo Mason is a flesh and blood individual; you dislike him, you are disturbed by him, you distrust him — but you feel his magnetism, you accept the inevitability of his hold to the last on those nearest to him, — Elsa, his wife, whose every dream was dimmed; Chet, his eldest son, who inherited his father's weaknesses without his strengths; Bruce, the younger boy, sensitive, too easily hurt, resentful and aware of what his father was doing to them all — but pulled back, right to the bitter, sordid end. It is a story that spans frontiers of what is virtually a contemporary picture, — Minnesota, and the Scandinavian section of good, sober farmers; Dakota, still raw frontier at the turn of the century; Saskatchewan, holding out promise of futures unrealized, and Montana, over the border, when prohibition was a provincial condition in Canada — a temptation of quick money to Bo Mason; Utah, which held them longest, though not many months in any one house; Nevada, where gambling was virtually indigenous and Bo briefly "in the money". The period brings the Masons up to the depression — when Bo eventually took the one way out, leaving his sole survivor, Bruce, with a legacy of bitter memories, and a few highlights, and some roots he'd been able to put down for himself despite the arguments of fate. It is not pleasant reading, much of it; but it is real, it is vigorous, it has moments of twisted humor, moments of tenderness, moments of beauty; and it has a holding quality that carries one through its more than 700 pages. It is one of the important novels of the Fall season.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1943

ISBN: 0143105787

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Duell, Sloan & Pearce

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1943

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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