An impressive and memorable trio of works about the many costs of war.

GROUNDED EAGLES

THREE TALES OF THE RAF IN WWII

In Schrader’s collection of novellas, men of the Royal Air Force try to make it through World War II without losing their sense of self.

In these three novellas, British airmen struggle with the complex roles that they must fill during and after their time at war. The first, A Stranger in the Mirror, tells the story of David “Banks” Goldman, a fighter pilot who’s lucky to have survived the destruction of his Hurricane. He didn’t make it out unscathed, however: His hands and his face have been burned beyond recognition. Reconstructive surgery can give him a new face, although it will take a lot of time and cause him a great deal of pain, and the chances of him flying again are slim. He wonders if a Banks who can’t fly and who wears a different visage is truly the same person. In A Rose in November, Rhys Jenkins, a widower and father of two, is perhaps too old to fight when the war begins—he had his share of that in the previous one—but he’s just received his dream posting as the “chiefy,” or ground chief, of a Spitfire squadron. When he meets Hattie Fitzsimmons, an officer in the Salvation Army who’s in a different social class, he’s forced to choose between his heart and his duty. The final novel, Lack of Moral Fibre, is a tale of objection. Kit Moran has flown 36 operations, and he refuses to fly a 37th. He is declared “LMF”—“lacking moral fiber”—and sent to a mental health facility for evaluation. If his psychiatrist, Ralph Grace, can find a medical reason for his refusal, he’ll receive treatment. If not, he’ll be punished for cowardice. Kit’s reasons for objecting turn out to be more complex than he can understand.

Over the course of this collection, Schrader’s prose is understated but often arresting, as when Banks works up the courage to look at his own burned face: “An image took shape in the glass. A mummy with glistening, shifting eyes. There was something inherently terrifying about a moving mummy because it suggested the return of the dead.” The stories here offer the reader compelling psychological explorations of men grappling with the traumas of war and attempting to find places for themselves in civilian society. In this way, the narratives have a timeless feel, but part of the joy of Schrader’s work is the way in which she brings the reader into highly specific, less-illuminated corners of British WWII history. A Stranger in the Mirror, with its exploration of traumatic injury, is perhaps the strongest of the pieces, but each of the others immerses the reader in a world of its own, with its own rules, shames, and dangers. Together, the novellas paint a grimly vivid portrait of what the average RAF serviceman might have experienced while also limning the contradictory ideals that they attempted—and often failed—to live up to during wartime.

An impressive and memorable trio of works about the many costs of war.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9891597-9-1

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Cross Seas Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

MEANT TO BE

Giffin’s latest charts the course of true love between an American aristocrat and a troubled fashionista.

Almost immediately, readers will guess that Giffin’s protagonist, Joseph S. Kingsley III, a media darling since birth, is a re-creation of John F. Kennedy Jr. In addition to Joe’s darkly handsome good looks, there are many other similarities, such as his double failure of the New York bar exam and his stint as a Manhattan assistant district attorney. But Joe’s late father was an astronaut, not the president, and locations associated with the Kennedys, such as Hyannis Port and Martha’s Vineyard, have been moved to the Hamptons and Annapolis. Instead of a sister, Joe has a protective female best friend, Berry Wainwright. Readers may be so obsessed with teasing out fact from fiction, and wondering if the outcome for Joe is going to be as tragic as JFK Jr.’s fatal 1999 flight, that they may be distracted from the engaging story of Joe’s co-protagonist, Cate Cooper, who is—apart from a superficial resemblance to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy—largely a fictional creation. When Joe and Cate meet-cute on a Hamptons beach where Cate, a model, is posing, both are immediately smitten. However, the paparazzi are determined to milk every ounce of scandal from the social chasm separating them. On the surface, Cate is the product of a middle-class upbringing in Montclair, New Jersey, but her interrupted education and her forced flight from an abusive home have shamed as well as strengthened her. Like her real-life counterpart, Cate rises in the fashion industry and becomes known for her minimalist style. The couple’s courtship drags a bit on the page despite witty banter and steamy encounters. It is the conflict brewing when their pedigrees clash, and, particularly, Cate’s consciousness of the disparity, that grips us. Whether these knockoffs can avoid the fates of the originals is the main source of suspense here.

An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-425-28664-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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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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