A graceful narrative that seamlessly interweaves philosophical reflections and intimate revelations.



An engrossing memoir chronicles a search for spiritual healing.

In 2011, happily married and the mother of two children, journalist Gisleson (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts; co-editor: How to Rebuild a City: Field Guide from a Work in Progress, 2010) was beset by a “persistent, daily, unsettling dread,” a feeling, “vaguely, that everything was wrong.” When a close friend asked her to “sit down and talk through some philosophical issues one-on-one,” she suggested forming a group instead: other friends, too, seemed in flux and on edge, and the author hoped that a monthly meeting, discussing relevant readings, would help. They called themselves the Existentialist Crisis Reading Group, nicknamed the Futilitarians. Chosen by the dozen or so members, readings ranged from Ecclesiastes to James Baldwin, King Lear to Fight Club and included philosophy, fiction, essays, poetry, biography, memoir, and even a movie. (The author appends the group’s reading list.) As Gisleson conveys her responses to these disparate readings, she reveals the events of her life that generated her “messy thoughts and feelings.” When she was in her late 20s, her youngest sister, Rebecca, committed suicide; a year and a half later, Rebecca’s identical twin, Rachel, also killed herself; and, more recently, her father succumbed to leukemia. Added to these was the devastation to her native New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina. Rebecca’s death left her shattered. “Unmarried, insecure, and chronically confused,” Gisleson writes, “I became paralyzed in my personal life, unable to make good decisions to move things forward.” Rachel’s death compounded those feelings, preoccupying the author for years. “I harbor a terrible, guilty suspicion,” she writes, “that the deaths of my sisters, their disappearance from the family structure,” allowed the remaining siblings “to do things we might not otherwise have ventured.” Rebecca and Rachel, their life choices, and mental illness are central to Gisleson’s story, as is her father, an opinionated, hard-drinking lawyer whose pro bono work for death row inmates the author seeks to understand.

A graceful narrative that seamlessly interweaves philosophical reflections and intimate revelations.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-39390-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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

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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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