An unabashedly emotional narrative that only occasionally requires readers to bushwhack through thick vines of memory.



An adoring view of a childhood nanny in Pinopolis, South Carolina, that does not disguise the ugly specter of 1950s segregation.

Williams, a former longtime professor of English at The Citadel, in Charleston, writes of growing up in the Deep South with both conviction and a sense of deep irony. The author was essentially raised by the African-American “help,” enlisted to take care of her when she was born in 1941. Eva Edwards Motte Aiken worked for the Williams family for 20 years, running a household consisting of three children and the disputatious, well-groomed parents who would eventually divorce. Eva was devoutly Christian and full of love and joy, unlike Williams’ own mother, Clara Lee, a college-educated, privileged white Southern girl and teacher who had her pick of husbands yet remained hard-shelled, unaffectionate, and undemonstrative toward her children. While Eva ran the household, Williams’ father, Buster, hailing from a long line of preachers, did his best to dismantle it, drinking heavily, squandering the inherited farm-supply business, beating the children, and running with women. As this is a Southern memoir, two themes predominate: family roots somnambulate spaciously, and the steely determination of the Southern female proves that it is not to be underestimated. As Buster continued his downward slide and stumbled along in appalling drunkenness, Eva and Clara Lee reshuffled the household. Clara Lee took command of the family business and eventually divorced the drunk, philandering Buster—even though divorce was fairly scandalous at that time in the South. Meanwhile, writes the author, “the tectonic plates underneath us were moving,” politically, socially, and personally. The author, while not a direct participant in civil rights activism, demonstrates enormous sympathy for the cause and puts Eva squarely in the narrative’s front seat.

An unabashedly emotional narrative that only occasionally requires readers to bushwhack through thick vines of memory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68003-034-1

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Texas Review Press

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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