An absorbing but flawed memoir of a male teacher’s abuse of a young female student.



A New York writer recalls her affair with a predatory teacher who told her, “You’re my Lolita.”

By the age of 18, Wood had undergone electroconvulsive therapy and taken more than 20 medications, “ranging from Prozac to lithium,” for medical problems including self-mutilation and suicidal depression. Her fragile mental health had put her high school graduation at risk. As a 17-year-old senior, she began getting help outside of class from a 27-year-old male English teacher, a Lolita fan she calls Nick North. She soon fell into an abusive romance described in this uneven memoir that overstretches parallels to Nabokov’s tale of a pedophile who rapes his 12-year-old stepdaughter. At furtive meetings at diners, Nick read Lolita to her and ruthlessly exploited her trust. Fearful of being fired, he insisted she start dating someone else as a cover for their romance, which she did, guiltily and briefly. He refused to sleep with her until she’d graduated but cruelly told her about his interim girlfriend. He persuaded her to attend Ithaca College by implying that he might go back to school at Cornell, then visited erratically until she broke up with him and later began her own teaching career. Wood tells her tale swiftly and suspensefully, but the writing can be wooden (she wants “to impact my students in supportive, meaningful ways”) and novelistically purple (“I looked up at him from inside his arms and tried to tell him Kiss me just kiss me please kiss me…and instead he squeezed me harder and let me go”). At heart, this is a potboiler with a gloss of literary street cred, and Wood may suspect it: “Sometimes I worry that the whole Lolita intertextuality is just a conceit, a clever way to elevate what happened to me, to raise it above the tawdry.” Many readers will also suspect it, but others will be turning the pages too fast to care.

An absorbing but flawed memoir of a male teacher’s abuse of a young female student.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-25021-721-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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