WAKING UP SCREAMING FROM THE AMERICAN DREAM

A ROVING REPORTER'S DISPATCHES FROM THE BUMPY ROAD TO SUCCESS

According to NPR commentator Garfield, the American Dream is less about white picket fences and two cars in the garage and far more about ``the pursuit of happiness.'' As the humorist proves, the pursuit, while often noble, is just as often fruitless. Garfield divides his book into four parts, including the quest for ``world-changing'' ideas; get-rich-quick schemes; his trials and tribulations in pursuit of the American Dream; and a selection of his radio commentaries. Although he may be best known for his droll sense of humor, the tales in this book are not, as Garfield himself points out, always meant to evoke laughter. There is, for instance, the story of cosmetics entrepreneur Jan Stuart, who, after initial success in the industry, launched a hunger strike to protest the way in which big business squeezed him out. Similarly, the piece entitled ``A Whorehouse Christmas''—about legal prostitution in Nevada—ends with the lament of a 21-year-old hooker wondering aloud why God put her on earth. At times, Garfield can be glib to the point of offensiveness, as in his story about Charles Wixom, of the Institute of Food Technologies, a frozen-food development company, who has the misfortune of having to compete with the genocide in Yugoslavia for attendees to his news conferences. Ultimately, the problems with the book are those that afflict many such collections: a lack of continuity, combined with a poorly defined overall concept. Garfield is best when writing about himself, and the book is partly redeemed by the section on his own pursuits, which contains essays on tourism, house and car shopping, and hunting, all in a Dave Barryish vein.

Pub Date: June 6, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-83218-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

THIS IS SHAKESPEARE

A brisk study of 20 of the Bard’s plays, focused on stripping off four centuries of overcooked analysis and tangled reinterpretations.

“I don’t really care what he might have meant, nor should you,” writes Smith (Shakespeare Studies/Oxford Univ.; Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 2016, etc.) in the introduction to this collection. Noting the “gappy” quality of many of his plays—i.e., the dearth of stage directions, the odd tonal and plot twists—the author strives to fill those gaps not with psychological analyses but rather historical context for the ambiguities. She’s less concerned, for instance, with whether Hamlet represents the first flower of the modern mind and instead keys into how the melancholy Dane and his father share a name, making it a study of “cumulative nostalgia” and our difficulty in escaping our pasts. Falstaff’s repeated appearances in multiple plays speak to Shakespeare’s crowd-pleasing tendencies. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a bawdier and darker exploration of marriage than its teen-friendly interpretations suggest. Smith’s strict-constructionist analyses of the plays can be illuminating: Her understanding of British mores and theater culture in the Elizabethan era explains why Richard III only half-heartedly abandons its charismatic title character, and she is insightful in her discussion of how Twelfth Night labors to return to heterosexual convention after introducing a host of queer tropes. Smith's Shakespeare is eminently fallible, collaborative, and innovative, deliberately warping play structures and then sorting out how much he needs to un-warp them. Yet the book is neither scholarly nor as patiently introductory as works by experts like Stephen Greenblatt. Attempts to goose the language with hipper references—Much Ado About Nothing highlights the “ ‘bros before hoes’ ethic of the military,” and Falstaff is likened to Homer Simpson—mostly fall flat.

A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4854-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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