A valuable biography, albeit lacking in Confederacy’s lively spirit.

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THE TRAGIC LIFE OF JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE AND THE REMARKABLE STORY OF A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES

A brief study of the too-brief life of John Kennedy Toole (1937–1969), author of the classic comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

Odd as it might be to say about a novelist who was unpublished in his lifetime and who killed himself at 31, Toole led something of a charmed life. The New Orleans native was an academic success, skipping two grades as a child and earning top marks studying literature at Tulane and Columbia. Later, his students at Hunter College and Dominican College would recall him as a charming and engaging teacher. An easy Army stint gave him plenty of free time, and in 1963 he began writing A Confederacy of Dunces, a brilliant picaresque novel set in his hometown. He hit the literary jackpot when the manuscript caught the admiring attention of editor Robert Gottlieb, who shepherded Catch-22 and other classics in the 1960s. But Gottlieb’s demands for revisions demoralized Toole, and after giving up on the book he slipped into a mental decline that concluded in 1969 on a Mississippi roadside, where he asphyxiated himself on his car’s exhaust fumes. MacLauchlin (English/Germanna Community Coll.) delivers this story in prose that never rises above workmanlike, but he cleanly lays out the brief life of his subject and his work’s unlikely afterlife: Thanks to his mother’s dogged efforts, Confederacy found an advocate in novelist Walker Percy, and the book became a sensation when it was published in 1980, winning the Pulitzer Prize. MacLauchlin is careful not to stray far from the documented record, and he criticizes a previous biography, Ignatius Rising (2001), for indulging in speculation about Toole’s alcoholism and sexual orientation. But apart from identifying friends and colleagues who were likely models for Confederacy’s characters, MacLauchlin engages little with the novel itself, which diminishes a sense of Toole’s accomplishment and his ongoing influence on comic novelists today.

A valuable biography, albeit lacking in Confederacy’s lively spirit.

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-306-82040-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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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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