Dime store romance + Greek gods – sex scenes = zzz

By Madeline Miller
400 pp. Little, Brown and Company. $27.

This one hurts. 

Whenever I’m on the verge of giving up on a book, I scroll through the reviews and try and find someone, anyone, who feels the way I do. I’ve wanted to give up on “Circe” a number of times over the past couple of weeks but every time I’ve sought validation for my decision by turning to Goodreads, I’ve had to scroll past the number of friends who have read this and REALLY liked it. And I mean really liked it. 

People who I usually agree with on everything, people who love Greek mythology as much as I do, people who cite their love for The Iliad and The Odyssey as reasons why they love “Circe”. I love “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” too, dammit! I love the classics, I love the Greek gods, and I love my friends who love “Circe” … but I don’t love “Circe”. 

I’m sorry, I wish I did. I really do. But the truth is that I just don’t understand … I just don’t understand why everyone else LOVES this!

What am I missing?? This is basically one of those romance novels whose pink, bodice-ripping cover fills entire rooms of those used bookstores that accept ALL trade-ins but that require you, when redeeming your credit, to still pay half in cash. After all, what did you expect when you traded in those dime store romance novels? That you’d be able to trade them for Knut Hamsun straight up?

It’s just a romance novel, something Danielle Steele might have written, but with more flowery writing and some gods and goddesses thrown in. And people eat it up!

When I was a kid I read everything. I remember frequently going to a used bookstore in my hometown of Phoenix — a giant place that would have taken up an entire city block, if it had actually been in the city — and while the other boys my age were browsing the room full of comic books (never really my thing) I’d be perusing the fiction section. I picked up a Danielle Steele book (I didn’t know who she was, but the premise sounded interesting as I remember) and I quickly devoured it. I was 9 or 10, and a few days later I was driving with my family somewhere. I was sitting in the backseat and my mom noticed what I was reading and asked if she could have a look at it. I passed it up, she flipped through it, and in a matter of moments she’d arrived on the page I somehow knew she’d arrive on, the page with the sex scene. Or at least what my young mind considered the best sex scene. I can still see her face. She turned towards my father and exclaimed loudly, “there’s a sex scene in this book!”

Unheard of!

I never did get the book back and my only experience with Danielle Steele remains unfinished. It was my first experience with sex in print, with sex anywhere really, and I remember the pleasant feeling reading that book — particularly that scene — gave me.

“Circe” did not give me a pleasant feeling. There were no sex scenes in the pages I read, at least none that seemed notable to me. I’m also not 9 anymore so it takes a bit more to excite me now. A book about a low-level goddess falling for a measly mortal just doesn’t do it. 

I’d say it was an anticlimax but there really was never any foreplay to begin with.

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