WE BEGIN OUR ASCENT

Cycling, family life, illegal substances—Reed twines them all together in his exceptional debut.

Our narrator, Solomon, is a professional cyclist racing in the Tour de France. His wife, Liz, is a research biologist with an “interest in adaptive theory.” They are both ambitious, devotedly searching for “a right way to do things, a sense of control.” But Sol is not racing to win; his job is “to get our team leader, Fabrice, across the twenty-one stages of this tour in as little time as possible.” To properly perform this job, and to remain competitive against their likewise unscrupulous rivals, Sol and his teammates dope—a practice Sol uneasily supports: “I am no fan of the danger of the process, but when I consider the way the team has got into me—altered my chemistry to my own advantage—I am grateful.” The novel unfolds over several days midtour. Sol’s team has a bit of good luck, and a lot of bad, and eventually Liz, who’s driving in from England to watch the race’s later stages, is drawn into the doping scheme…then further into it, then further. “Just one little thing more,” she says. Reed’s first novel lives squarely within Don DeLillo’s sphere of influence. In addition to their mutual preoccupation with systems—the systems we live beneath, the systems we design for ourselves—Reed shares with DeLillo certain aspects of pacing, voice, and character: Sol’s wryly thoughtful narration is reminiscent of Jack Gladney’s in White Noise; Rafael, the team’s coercive and brilliantly rendered directeur sportif, could be a relative of Gladney's friend Murray Jay Siskind. But Reed relies more heavily on plot than DeLillo, and the effect is remarkably successful: Alongside the ideas and the jokes, there is real suspense and human drama. Reed shows us the allure of conducting our “days...not for their own sake but for the light that will be cast back upon them by success”—and then he shows us how awful this method of living can be when things go wrong. “We are doing all this for a bicycle race?” Fast and smart, funny and sad, this is an outstanding sports novel, and Reed is an author to watch. 

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6920-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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