A bighearted, widescreen American tale.

SMALL WORLD

A train accident reveals the connections among a host of people across race, class, history, and the country in this ambitious epic.

Evison’s seventh novel opens by giving away the climax: Walter, a train operator working his final run for Amtrak, is at the center of a wreck on the way to Seattle. But despite making the worlds-in-collision setup clear early, Evison has still crafted a suspenseful novel, as he shuttles between the train’s riders in 2019 and their forebears in the 1850s. Walter is a descendent of Nora and Finn, Irish twins orphaned in Chicago. Malik, a rising high school basketball star, is a descendent of George, an escaped slave. Jenny, a hard-charging corporate fixer (she supervised Amtrak buyouts that, it’s implied, led to the crash), descends from Wu Chen, a Chinese immigrant who parlayed a small stash of gold into a thriving business. And Laila, escaping her abusive husband, is descended from Luyu, a Miwok woman who’s absorbed White people's condescension or brutality. Bouncing among the characters in brief chapters, Evison gives the story a sprightly, page-turner feel despite the sizable cast he’s assembled. And the story thrives because his eye for the particulars of each character’s life is so sharp: Finn’s work on farms and railroads, Laila’s anxiety over escaping her husband, Malik’s mother’s desperate efforts to make ends meet for her son’s sake. So when their lives do wind up intersecting on the train, Evison’s novel feels less like we’re-all-connected sentimentality than a compassionate vision of a pluralistic country that ought to dignify everybody. Though politics aren’t explicit in the novel, it’s plainly a response to an era that’s created dividing lines across the country. Without being simplistic or wearing rose-colored glasses, Evison suggests a fresh way of recognizing our relationships without melting-pot clichés.

A bighearted, widescreen American tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18412-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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