An amusing foray into the witchy realms of Burroughs’ life that lacks the depth of previous memoirs.

TOIL & TROUBLE

A MEMOIR

The magical side of the acclaimed author’s colorful life.

Burroughs (Lust & Wonder, 2016, etc.) is well known for his soul-baring, bestselling memoirs, including Running With Scissors, his vivid portrait of his dysfunctional family life, and Dry, his powerful account of alcoholism and getting clean. One might think he has few secrets left to divulge, yet in this latest memoir, he reveals a startling new detail: He’s a witch. In fact, the author, who first realized his “gift” as a young boy, comes from a long line of witches, including his mother and grandmother. The loosely constructed narrative initially revolves around the author’s anecdotal “witchy” incidents that occurred as a child and then later as an adult, especially as related to his relationship with his husband, Christopher. Burroughs chronicles how he convinced Christopher to move from their urban Manhattan life and settle in a historic home in rural Connecticut. The author has always displayed a talent for sharing sometimes-grim personal dramas with a keen whimsical flair. Unfortunately, the balance is never quite achieved here; the dramatic moments are softly conceived while his narrative often swings in a broader comedic direction. Though the author’s witch revelation feels authentic, some elements of the story undermine the gravity of his tale. These include such chapter headings as “Adder’s Tongue,” “Snake’s Blood,” “Fairie’s Finger,” and “Bat’s Wings” as well as frequent mentions of the 1960s sitcom Bewitched, in which Burroughs compares his experiences to those of Samantha Stevens. The author delivers intermittently intriguing depictions of the quirky local characters they have encountered in the countryside, including redneck handymen, a flamboyant has-been opera singer neighbor, and their real estate agent, who also happens to be a witch. Though we see Burroughs and Christopher struggle through potential hardships, including a tornado and illness, these often feel like contrived plot points allowing for further witty indulgences.

An amusing foray into the witchy realms of Burroughs’ life that lacks the depth of previous memoirs.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-01995-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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