A history that comes alive as discomfiting flashes, then in great fearful helpings.

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THE NEARLY DEPARTED

OR, MY FAMILY AND OTHER FOREIGNERS

Magazine journalist Cullerton’s debut excavates the emotional rubble left in the wake of her family’s passage through life.

First there is a lull, when readers might mistake this memoir for a piece of comic absurdism: the final, even odder years of two already eccentric parents and a select cast of strange characters who live with them on the family property in Connecticut. Cullerton’s mother, given to gardening in her black lace underwear in suburban New England, had always been a step out of the frame, with a wicked tongue that neatly cut people down to size. Today she is a caricature of herself; what was once vital is now purely intolerant when not purely unhinged. Cullerton’s father had once seemed urbane, but his “stealthlike humor [and] light, deft touch” have degenerated into “a heavy-handed coarseness, a vulgarity, that made me cringe.” Their daughter visits often as they dwindle toward their graves, scraping away the overburden until it bleeds, to arrive at “a place where there are no metaphors . . . the subconscious ceases to exist”: her childhood. She gathers episodes, develops themes, puzzles them into an unsettling picture of fear, desertion, grief, and isolation. And it gives her dreadful pause, for she learned early the survival mechanism of flight and disappearance. “What if fear, rage, arrogance, and despair, like my genetic dispositions for alcoholism, osteoporosis, strokes, and cancer, are hardwired into my brain?” she asks. There is evidence of this, but also evidence that she’s identified the enemy and taken countermeasures. Yet Cullerton’s own internal wilderness is clearly far from tamed, and though it is full of hazards, she notes that “the edge is what keeps us on our toes.” Yes, her parents were only human—“unbearably alive,” she says—but that doesn’t mean they should not have come with warning labels: Exposure to the contents herein is dangerous to your health.

A history that comes alive as discomfiting flashes, then in great fearful helpings.

Pub Date: May 2, 2003

ISBN: 0-316-16253-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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