Can a minor literary figure sustain interest throughout a major biography? In the case of Henry James Sr., the answer is yes. James is the ``blocked and monomaniacal hierophant'' who fathered perhaps America's most remarkable literary brood—Henry, William, and Alice. With equal parts psychological insight and mordant humor, Habegger (English/Univ. of Kansas; Henry James and the ``Woman Business,'' not reviewed) limns a fiercely paradoxical man constantly undermined by inner demons. Henry Sr. (181182) is little read today, but he was an intellectual when it first came to matter during the American Literary Renaissance. An eccentric philosopher, Henry Sr. had wealth and a gift for witty conversation that gave him access to many of the leading literary and intellectual men of his day, including Emerson, Carlyle, Thoreau, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, yet his bilious essays also mired him in endless controversy. Habegger traces much of his character to a childhood accident that deprived him of a leg and gave him, presumably, much to compensate for. He spent his youth in drunken idleness. He had a devastating nervous breakdown in his 30s and later embraced and then quarreled with one religion or philosophy after another, including Calvinism, Swedenborgism, and Fourierism (his advocacy of the latter's theories on sexual freedom caused a huge scandal). His family relations also bore the marks of the crackpot: He favored William, shuttled Henry Jr. from one school and instructor to another, left his two younger sons exposed to the Civil War service from which William and Henry were shielded, and, regarding women as a mere appendage to men, so smothered Alice's questing intellect that she became suicidal. How ironic that in middle age this egotist came to believe that selfhood was the principle root of evil. This deserves an honored place on the shelves with previous biographies of the James family by Leon Edel, R.W.B. Lewis, and Jean Strouse.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-15383-3

Page Count: 550

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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