Good fun for nonspecialists, but aficionados will want more substance. (16 pages b&w photos)

MARIA CALLAS

AN INTIMATE BIOGRAPHY

A serviceable account of the star-crossed diva—but it has much competition.

Perhaps the greatest prima donna of them all, Callas rose to stardom despite a horrific upbringing. Evangelia Callas, the stage mother from hell, was determined that her daughter would reap the money and social status that fate had denied her. She alienated Maria from her loving father and pimped Maria’s sister as a mistress. All this was acted out against the terrible backdrop of German-occupied Athens. Evangelia’s determination was not misplaced, however. Maria, although pimply and overweight, showed phenomenal talent from a young age. Owing to excellent training, great intelligence, fine acting abilities, and a limitless capacity for work, Callas eventually became the best-known opera singer in the world. Sadly, she did not enjoy success for long. Her voice deteriorated when still quite young. Manipulated and exploited by many (especially by her lover Aristotle Onassis), her career was over by her mid-40s and she was dead of a drug overdose at 53. Edwards (Ever After, 2000, etc.) tells Callas’s story efficiently and readably. There is, however, a dated, sensational quality to her writing, reminiscent of scandal sheets of years past. She also engages in that hoary British tradition of making fun of the nouveau riches of America, as if Albion has never been graced with that species. An air of sloppiness and haste pervades: needless repetitions of opera plots, and astonishingly poor word choices (she twice confuses “enervate” for “energize,” and she writes that Robert Kennedy’s assassination occurred “at a fund-raising affair”). Or consider this howler: “designer Piero Tosi (named for an ancestral forebear, the seventeenth-century castrato).” Edwards is a storyteller, not a cultural analyst. Once Callas is cremated and the last scandal is dealt with, she gives us a single perfunctory paragraph commenting on Callas’s impact and then ends it, rather like a college term paper written the night before.

Good fun for nonspecialists, but aficionados will want more substance. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26986-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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