A brick of a memoir that carries very little real weight.

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THE JUNKIFICATION OF A BOYHOOD IDYLL AMID THE CURIOUS GLORY OF URBAN IOWA

A New York City intellectual recalls his childhood in Davenport, Iowa.

This debut memoir by widely published essayist Miller aspires to fall somewhere between John Kennedy Toole and David Sedaris, but there is little humor in this stream-of-consciousness narrative about the minutia of Midwestern life. The author attempts to lionize a supposedly tough childhood that turns out to be quite ordinary, despite Miller’s best efforts to lend pregnant pause to every mundane detail. The mere choosing of a Christmas tree inspires this passage: “The obvious connection between this emaciated pine and Charlie Brown’s unfortunate tree-lot pick was not voiced by anyone. Or, I should say, could not be voiced, lest we admit our life was a cartoon, and ridiculous as circumstances often were, always, on some level, they remained very real, too.” For the most part, we are bystanders to the panoramic film playing out behind young Miller’s eyes, as he aspires to be a writer and makes grand observations about his family and neighbors. His Writers’ Studio, a group of misfit scribblers, is given surprisingly short shrift, but much drama is inspired by the author’s three “mean sisters,” one of whom is ultimately the victim of her own tragic story. Miller also gives much play to elderly neighbors like Mr. Hickey, a cigar-puffing widower whose ephemera spills across the pages like a still life. There’s no doubt that the author has a gift for language, but the recklessness with which he wields his talent takes the spark out of the story. There is also a degree to which he attempts to demonize his now deeply estranged family—he deliberately distanced himself for years while simultaneously wallowing in his own remembrances—that makes the memoir’s primary subject come off as self-pitying and thin-skinned.

A brick of a memoir that carries very little real weight.

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9849000-0-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Lookout Books

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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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

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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