A roaming, rambunctious account about rejecting society—and then embracing it.

ACID TEST

A memoir discusses morality and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1980s punk scene.

One might not associate Salt Lake City with the counterculture, but in the mid-’80s, the city boasted a punk scene awash in drugs, sex, and rock ’n’ roll. It was in this milieu that Bigelow (The Latter-day Saint Family Encyclopedia, 2019, etc.), fresh from high school, began to move beyond the good-and-evil morality of his upbringing by “middle-range Mormons.” Borrowing from the tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons (Bigelow’s preferred means of escape during his early adolescence), the author adopted the philosophy of chaotic neutrality: “In D&D, neutral basically meant selfish—I did what I needed for my own comfort, but I didn’t hurt others for evil purposes, and I didn’t conform to some one-size-fits-all system of good.” What was so bad, after all, about casual sex, recreational drug use, and some minor theft here and there? Then, under the influence of LSD and Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic novel The Stand, Bigelow began to probe the unseen world—and he didn’t exactly like what he found. One night, after an INXS concert, drunk and on speed, the author suffered a strange encounter: a violent, angry attack that he called “a disturbance in the Force.” The experience forced Bigelow to confront a larger question: Did evil really exist? And was he better off as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than as an unaligned hedonist? The author’s prose is conversational but steeped in its own cleverly outlined philosophy, as here where Bigelow describes the guilt he felt from stealing from his roommate: “After he left for work, we packed our stuff into cardboard boxes, including Scott’s combat boots and several records. If possible, we would’ve taken his TV, stereo, and other stuff too. As we drove north, I felt a little guilty. Had we crossed the line from chaotic neutral into chaotic evil?” While the author is an able storyteller with plenty of colorful anecdotes, his interest in morality provides a unique ballast in what would otherwise be a typical but entertaining tale of adolescent mischief. His evocative depiction of the time and its subcultures helps to make this a memorable and ultimately quite surprising autobiography.

A roaming, rambunctious account about rejecting society—and then embracing it.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9993472-3-2

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Zarahemla Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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