THE NEWS FROM IRELAND

AND OTHER STORIES

Another Trevor collection of short stories is always good news, and here in these 12 tales (many previously published in The New Yorker), the author again attends to the usually sad, small defeats of victims caught in the consequences of distant searing events, betrayed by their own wrong turns or, worse, simple inadequacy. In the title story, set in Ireland in 1847-48, a dry leaf of a "poor Irish" Protestant butler acts as a kind of persistent guide and prophet to the poverty, starvation, misery and horror of the ravished Irish countryside outside the English-occupied estate of a blandly oblivious, newly arrived English family. The soul he would turn back to England is the governess, a young woman of "principle and sensibility," another in a long line of Ireland's "visitors and strangers." Will she listen? Yes, reluctantly, and she'll be "sick at heart." But like her employers and other destroying strangers, she will, by the close, "learn to live with things." Joureys to times past bring illumination but also loss. In "Virgins" two middle-aged women meet in Italy, too late to ever find again their joyous girlhood friendship in Ireland—drawn apart long ago by the feverish wiles of a dying boy. Yet "that friendship. . .ran deeper than [their] marriages." Torment for torment is the destiny of a young hotel-heir who discarded his lover because of caste and cowardice; and in "On the Zattere," an elderly widower and his daughter, the latter wasted by a self-serving lover, are trapped in a stasis of silent anger. Love is elusive: "Mr. Robin Right" is always just around the corner for an aging chorine; and in Florence, a middle-aged woman disappears (probably dead), and the man she desired, hopelessly impotent, muses on their "affair": "She had arrived at the happiest moment of love, when nothing is destroyed." The dream lies forever out of reach; one simply "settles"; and parents doom children to fear and hatred. As always, Trevor, the consummate storyteller, writes with skill and compassion as he scrupulously weighs the press and passions of time and event on restless lives straining after illusions—or held by the potency of an evil never fully understood.

Pub Date: May 1, 1986

ISBN: 0140088571

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1986

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Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and...

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actual…underground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a “dilapidated box car” along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks?

For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with “real life,” both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves’ destiny reveal themselves. So it’s back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they’ve not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that “freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits.” Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53703-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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