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THE JOURNALS OF SPALDING GRAY

The troubled ruminations of the celebrated actor and writer, entries that darken as they approach his death by suicide in 2004.

An undoubtedly talented performer, Gray (Life Interrupted: The Unfinished Monologue, 2005, etc.) comes across as profoundly insecure and self-absorbed in these erratic passages generously annotated by editor Casey (An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family, 2007, etc.)—and Gray’s journals certainly require annotation. He did not write every day; he used abbreviations; he alluded to things that only he and a handful of others could comprehend. Casey divides the text into decades, each of which she introduces with a long summary of Gray’s activities. The entries begin in the 1960s, when Gray (born in 1941) was beginning to launch his career. The suicide of his mother in 1967 darkened the decade—and remained on Gray’s mind the rest of his life. At the time it happened, he wrote “I MUST keep the outside me alive!” Given the tortured testimony in these pages, it’s remarkable that he did so until 2004. His sexuality remained an issue throughout. Although he did not consider himself gay, he did have same-sex experiences, and he wrote often and graphically about sex, recording his myriad betrayals of his partners. According to his journals, when he wasn’t having sex, he was thinking about it, planning it and remembering it. He had alcohol-abuse issues as well, spent years in therapy, underwent electroshock treatments and lived in mental institutions. Yet he somehow found time to write, to perfect his celebrated monologue format and to find men and women—and audiences—who supported him, even during his times of personal implosion. Negative reviews bothered him, and he rarely felt entirely happy about his performances, or about anything else. A journey into a darkness too deep for hope to brighten.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-27345-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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