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WHEN KATIE WAKES

A MEMOIR

Insightful, generous, and perfectly pitched: a good nonfiction companion to Before Women Had Wings (1996), Fowler’s novel...

From popular novelist Fowler (Remembering Blue, 2000, etc.), a searing and finely crafted memoir of youth and adulthood stunted by abuse.

The author’s great achievement is to demonstrate convincingly how intelligent and accomplished women can become trapped in destructive situations that seem inescapable. In her case, Fowler admits, a tender heart as well as emotional vulnerabilities made her susceptible to abuse. She loved her parents, who had endured tough times and been beaten as children themselves: how could she blame her father for drinking too much and beating her mother? Then, when he suddenly died, Mama “with not a clue how to manage . . . plunged deeper into the family tradition: mean bitterness fueled by alcohol.” Teased unmercifully about her buckteeth, Connie was sure she was ugly and an easy mark for the abusive man who later told her she was stupid as well. She begins her story with that unnamed man, an aging, alcoholic former newscaster she’s living with in Tampa, Florida, in 1984. He’s promised to help the 26-year-old college graduate become a writer, but in truth he himself is washed up professionally. Their relationship is platonic—he claims to have testicular cancer—but he frequently goes off with other women; she pays his bills, cooks and cleans, and endures his brutal physical attacks. She acquires a dog, Katie, whose love is an abiding comfort, begins a promising writing job on a local magazine, and falls in love with coworker Mika Fowler, an unhappily married photographer. But, even when her abuser steals the money she’d saved to fix her teeth, it takes a while before she has the courage and conviction to leave.

Insightful, generous, and perfectly pitched: a good nonfiction companion to Before Women Had Wings (1996), Fowler’s novel covering similar territory.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-50201-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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