Too strange for fans of Buckley’s Blackford Oakes series (A Very Private Plot, 1994, etc.) and not Elvis-centered enough to...

ELVIS IN THE MORNING

The fresh and amusing, if somewhat unfocused, story of an idealistic young man’s lifelong friendship with the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.

The storyline on surface seems to have sprung from the mind of some unreconstructed, wacked-out liberal like Tom Robbins than by archconservative pundit and spy novelist Buckley (Spytime, 2000, etc.). Orson Killere is a bright lad who spent his childhood years on an army base in West Germany during the 1950s, his mother a general’s personnel administrator. Even though he’s extremely studious and not much for playing around, Orson does delight in one rather serious obsession: Elvis Presley. Misinterpreting the social utopian views about private property from one of his teachers, Orson decides that the entire world should have access to Elvis records. When he’s apprehended by the police for stealing Elvis records from the PX, the story makes the Stars and Stripes and so impresses Private Presley (stationed nearby) that he shows up at Orson’s house and treats him to a private concert. From then on, Orson and the King are fast and improbable friends. Buckley wisely refuses to play up the kitsch value, sticking to a generous portrayal of Elvis as a decent-enough, albeit delusional, musical genius who goes nowhere without his close coterie of advisors and friends (the “Memphis Mafia”) but will drop everything to have a long chat on the phone with Orson, wherever and whenever. Through all of Orson’s misadventures around the country—he’s expelled from a university for protesting, rides the rails through the West, even meets Barry Goldwater briefly—the tone is inconsistent and spotty. Often, just when you feel as if you might be getting to know the protagonist, a phone call comes from one of the Memphis Mafia and Elvis takes the stage again.

Too strange for fans of Buckley’s Blackford Oakes series (A Very Private Plot, 1994, etc.) and not Elvis-centered enough to please his vast fandom, but it’d be a shame if a story this unpredictable and fun fell through the cracks.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-100643-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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