A vivid account of a troubled soul trudging toward stability and purpose.

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LIFE IS A GAME

THIS IS HOW I PLAYED IT

The ethos of the gridiron helps a young man growing up before World War II overcome physical and psychological challenges in this earnest, anxious memoir.

Born into a poor Irish-American family in Queens, N.Y., in 1918, the author’s horizons were circumscribed by a number of factors, the most obvious being a right arm stunted at the age of 2 by a brush with polio. Defying prognoses that he would never use the arm again, he embarked in his teenage years on a grueling exercise regimen that worked so well that he became a formidable amateur boxer. (Several meticulously described fight scenes are high points of the narrative.) The lesson, distilled from bruising sandlot football games, was clear: “When things got tough, I pushed more, ran faster and, worked harder.” That attitude helped Murtagh finish high school while working full time, but not to surmount his life’s central failure—being classified 4F because of his arm and barred from military service in World War II, his generation’s great test of manhood. (He clearly never got over the disappointment, and the book’s obsessive focus on his strength and daring makes the case that he would have been a good soldier.) Murtagh’s reminiscences of his boyhood and Depression-era coming of age paint a gritty, evocative portrait of prewar working-class life, one that was equal parts hardship and hope. The second part of his memoir is stranger and darker as, after the war, he drifts into college and false career starts, briefly joins a monastery, endures panic attacks and bizarre psychosexual seizures and enters therapy, where he unearths childhood traumas and a galloping Oedipal complex. Although Murtagh’s life never quite settles down to a coherent game plan, he writes fluently and often touchingly of his battle to climb out of his mental funk through prayer and sheer determination to “put one foot in front of the other.”

A vivid account of a troubled soul trudging toward stability and purpose.

Pub Date: April 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450054874

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2010

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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