Highly personal yet socio-politically acute: a debut collection that cuts to the bone of human experience and packs a...



Race is less subject than context in these eight finely crafted tales, all consistently challenging readers’ basic assumptions.

Like many of Packer’s characters, Dina, in the title story (previously published in the New Yorker’s Debut Fiction issue in summer 2000), is a studious loner whose disdain toward her fellow students, black and white, covers years of angry hurt. The Yale freshman begins a friendship with a white girl but can’t follow through. Dina appears again in “Geese,” living in Japan with a multinational group of down-and-outers and discovering how far down she’ll go to survive. These are not cheerful tales. In the marvelous opener, “Brownies,” a Brownie troop plots to beat up a white troop at their camp over a suspected racial offense; but the white girls turn out to be retarded innocents. Packer frequently uses the black church as background; in “Every Tongue Shall Confess,” religious and romantic longings get tangled together for a lonely, devout nurse. Tia, in “Speaking in Tongues,” runs away from her aunt’s devout but stable home to find her crack addict mother in Atlanta. In “Our Lady of Peace,” an educated young woman leaves her mostly white hometown in Kentucky to become a high-school teacher in Baltimore, where she’s defeated by her unreachable students and her own naiveté. “The Ant of the Self” offers the collection’s only male protagonist, a studious high-school debater in Louisville who finds himself driving his dead-beat dad to the Million Man March, where his father, ignoring the spirit of the event, abandons him. The last story, set in 1961, deals directly with race as the subject. The eponymous heroine of “Doris Is Coming” tries to understand the Civil Rights Movement within the framework of her small but complex world. When she enacts a one-person sit-in at a local lunch counter, the waitress says she can’t officially serve her but offers Doris her own unfinished milk shake instead.

Highly personal yet socio-politically acute: a debut collection that cuts to the bone of human experience and packs a lasting wallop.

Pub Date: March 10, 2003

ISBN: 1-57322-234-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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