A gemlike, melancholy novel infused with personal and national history.

TOKYO UENO STATION

A ghost haunts a Tokyo train station, with history and tragedy much on his mind.

Kazu, the late narrator of Yu’s second novel to be translated into English, spent his life as an itinerant laborer, one of eight children who moved from his home in Fukushima to help build facilities for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Fukushima was the epicenter of the 2011 nuclear power-plant disaster, which also plays into the story.) Kazu recalls pieces of his life in digressive fashion as he wanders the grounds of a homeless encampment near a busy Tokyo train station. He listens in on conversations and recalls how he himself wound up residing there. His mood is scattered (“noises, colors, and smells are all mixed up, gradually fading away, shrinking”), but it’s soon clear in this brief, piercing novel that Kazu is circling around a series of heartbreaks, and when Yu finally hits on them—Kazu's separation from his family for work, the death of his son, the financial desperation that led to his homelessness—the novel gains a pathos and focus that justify its more abstract and lyrical early passages. As Kazu chronicles the funeral rites and his own fallen fortunes, the novel becomes a somber cross section of Japanese society, from the underclass to salarymen to the royal family to the homeless people subject to the whims of government (like the potential closure of the camp due to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics). Yu’s first novel in English, Gold Rush (2002), was a hyperviolent, American Psycho–esque tale of Yokohama street youth. This more restrained and mature novel is a subtle series of snapshots of “someone who has lost the capacity to exist, now ceaselessly thinking, ceaselessly feeling.”

A gemlike, melancholy novel infused with personal and national history.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08802-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

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THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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