Three characters on the cusp of crisis and one on the brink of death inhabit Miller's moving new novel, in which each grapples with despair and discovers that love can confer purifying strength. Widowed school administrator Alice Valentine is dying at her home in England's West Country. She's dependent on an oxygen tank and on her younger son, Alec, who has left his London apartment to care for her. Depressed and feeling unable to cope, the unstable Alec has coincidentally received an assignment that could make his career: to translate a play called Oxygène, written in French by Hungarian exile László Lázár. Alice's older son, Larry, had always been the successful brother, early on as a tennis star and later as a TV actor. But Larry's been out of a job for some time, and drink and drugs have eroded his moral judgment, alienated his wife and possibly affected his six-year-old daughter. When the family convenes at Alice's bedside for what will be her last birthday, each member is submerged in private struggles. Meanwhile, in Paris, László is surrounded by friends and grateful for the devotion of his lover, Kurt, but he remains guilt-ridden because of his failure to avert a tragedy during the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Contacted by Albanian exiles conspiring to fight the Serbs in Kosovo, László has a chance to redeem himself on a dangerous mission. With brilliant dexterity, Miller intertwines the strands of his plot and leads each character to epiphanies, capped by a breathtaking denouement. Miller's first novel, Ingenious Pain, won several important literary prizes, including the IMPAC. It's no wonder that Oxygen was a Booker Prize finalist. Written in elegant, resonant prose, this book breathes with compassion and honesty, and with the rare quality called hope.(Apr.)
Forecast:Apt comparisons to Michael Cunningham's The Hours may add impetus to sales bound to be initiated by good reviews and a seven-city author tour.