Indeed, Vonnegut emerges as irascible, ungenerous and usually unkind, “flinty, defensive, and sarcastic,” which will surely...

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KURT VONNEGUT: A LIFE

The life of a once-lionized writer who is gradually, it seems, being forgotten today.

“We are what we pretend to be,” wrote Vonnegut in his novel Mother Night, “so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Vonnegut didn’t pretend to be much, preferring to let others invent roles for him, such as shaggy-haired dispenser of goofy wisdom or the dark chronicler of the gloom and doom that technology and consumerism would one day visit upon us all. One has to feel some pity for Shields (Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, 2006, etc.), who began this biography with Vonnegut’s blessing; alas, Vonnegut died as Shields was beginning to work, and Vonnegut’s widow and son deauthorized the book, refusing to allow Shields to quote directly from a body of 258 letters that Shields himself had “received from his correspondents.” The result is a slightly choppy piece, though the main threads will be familiar to readers of Vonnegut’s work. For one thing, he was a moralist through and through—and a self-aware one who noted, “People are constantly demanding moralizing…that’s certainly what people want to hear when they ask me to lecture.” For another, Vonnegut quite deliberately chose the vehicle of science fiction to warn about the dangers of science—though, as Shields’ book illuminates, at least some of Vonnegut’s distaste for technology was a reaction to a brother with whom he had lifelong issues. Though guilty of unnecessarily overwritten passages, Shields is a sympathetic and responsive reader of Vonnegut’s work, which deserves to be taken seriously even when so often dismissed as literary pranksterism, and even though the last couple of decades of it frankly wasn’t very good. The author also cuts Vonnegut some of the necessary slack, since to be a writer by definition is to be a selfish and peevish being—and so Vonnegut was.

Indeed, Vonnegut emerges as irascible, ungenerous and usually unkind, “flinty, defensive, and sarcastic,” which will surely disappoint admirers who wanted him to be something better.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8693-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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

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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