Moments of undeniable power punctuate a sometimes disordered narrative.

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SONGS FROM THE BLACK CHAIR

A MEMOIR OF MENTAL INTERIORS

First-book author Barber recalls the suicide of one boyhood friend, the disintegration of another, his own experiences working with the homeless, mentally handicapped and mentally ill—and wonders why he’s been able to emerge from the tangled wood and others have not.

Barber (Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health/Yale Univ. School of Medicine) mixes affecting autobiographical anecdotes, self-deprecating humor, summaries of psychiatric cases and speculations about the meaning of life. He begins with his most powerful segment, the 1983 suicide of his close friend Henry, an act no one witnessed but that Barber imagines with great poignancy. (Later, he employs, to diminishing effect, the same technique in imagining the suicide of that same friend’s mother, who years later killed herself in the same remote location and fashion as her son.) Barber relates many stories about his school and collegiate days (he dropped out of Harvard, then returned and graduated), including some harrowing times when he watched Henry systematically destroy every object in his room. He also tells about his long struggles with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and his initially liberating experiences with Prozac, along the way offering some details about his parents and about his courtship and marriage. He sort of backed into the mental health profession by taking a job in a home for the mentally retarded, which led to his eventually working long hours at Bellevue and helping at homeless shelters. His wife’s pregnancy, he says, transported him from the shelters to the Ivy League. In closing, Barber observes that he and his close friends—all bright, all successful in school—might have struggled because they’d had to create their own war to fight, unlike the WWII and Vietnam generations, who were challenged by history more directly and profoundly. Some of the segments—especially the long case narratives—seem more tangential than essential.

Moments of undeniable power punctuate a sometimes disordered narrative.

Pub Date: March 21, 2005

ISBN: 0-8032-1298-4

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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