“What Orthodoxy offers,” Merrill writes, “is light.” As does he.

THINGS OF THE HIDDEN GOD

JOURNEY TO THE HOLY MOUNTAIN

A gem that shows off Merrill-the-poet’s gorgeous writing, and Merrill-the-reporter’s sharp eye—and introduces a new Merrill, the pilgrim.

Mount Athos is a remote Greek peninsula, inhabited by Orthodox monks. Merrill (International Writing Program/Univ. of Iowa; The Grass of Another Country, 2004, etc.) was drawn there in 1998 when he was depressed, in credit-card debt, and drained from his reporting in the war-wracked Balkans. His marriage was crumbling, he was working too many hours a day and too hard—and so he went on a pilgrimage. On Athos, he hiked, prayed and saw monastic life up close. He discussed Robert Frost with one wise and genial monk, ate “almost inedible” food in monastic refectories, and tried sleepily to keep a prayer vigil. An on-again-off-again Episcopalian, Merrill found himself reading patristics and Scripture with an ardor he once reserved for poetry. (Things of . . . is embroidered not only with snippets from the Bible and Church fathers, but with insights from Updike, Larkin, Edward Lear, Simone Weil—treats alone that are worth the price of admission.) Indeed, the author experiences what he thinks might be a conversion, a deepening of faith, some sort of turning toward God, whatever one wants to call it. He comes to appreciate all—or, at least, most—things Orthodox, from icons to repentance. And his time on this peninsula where no women are allowed promises to transform his marriage. He begins to think of marriage as a holy discipline and learns something about both forgiveness and love. This is travel-reporting and memoir, as Merrill takes readers both to Athos and to the inside of his soul. That he shares his interior life with vulnerability and honest self-criticism saves the book from the tedium that can attend travel-writing, while his rendering of the Athos landscape wards off the narcissism that can attend spiritual memoir.

“What Orthodoxy offers,” Merrill writes, “is light.” As does he.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-679-46305-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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