An intelligent, sympathetic portrait of a complicated, even tortured writer who calls for fresh readers.

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CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON

PORTRAIT OF A LADY NOVELIST

A fine reappraisal of the work of the Victorian novelist and dear friend to Henry James.

In this comprehensive, fleshed-out biography, author Rioux (English/Univ. of New Orleans; Writing for Immortality: Women and the Emergence of High Literary Culture in America, 2004, etc.) works back from Woolson’s suicide in 1894 to consider the enormous obstacles a woman writer in her era had to overcome in the sexist American literary culture. Woolson’s work was largely overshadowed by her contemporary and frequent companion James, and Rioux does not speculate idly about their relationship outside of their mutual devotion to their work, loneliness, and James’ essential “underlying disdain for women writers.” Indeed, Woolson grasped that disdain and even—painful as it is to modern readers—subsumed the sexist strictures of the time, declaring to James, “a woman, after all, can never be a complete artist.” Yet the two novelists were serializing their work in periodicals at the same time and similarly employed intelligent, thwarted, unrealized female characters in their fiction. A product of a large Cleveland family of mostly daughters—many of whom died tragically in their youth—Woolson saw firsthand the wasted fates of mothers and wives. She narrowly “escaped” (her word) a similar fate in marriage in her late 20s before choosing the writing life over teaching (the two professions available to single women), partly due to her middle name—James Fenimore Cooper was her great uncle. Woolson was determined to make a living by her pen, and she was able to support her mother and sister, moving constantly and eventually settling in Venice—although she was plagued by depression and ill health for much of her life. Rioux delineates the toll her writing ambition took on her and how, curiously, she hid her lethal literary drive from her friend James.

An intelligent, sympathetic portrait of a complicated, even tortured writer who calls for fresh readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24509-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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