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A collection of essays and articles that startle, charm, challenge, amuse, and elucidate. Novelist Merkin (Enchantment, l986) writes nonfiction for such diverse publications as Esquire, Mirabella, Partisan Review, and the New Yorker. Her topics range from celebrity interviews with Richard Burton and Martin Scorsese to reflections on self-improvement, such as tanning and breast reduction. Among weightier matters are the guilt that Hedda Nussbaum must bear from the death of her daughter, Lisa, and the self-hatred that Merkin acquired about her Jewishness. What makes Merkin's reflections special is not the subject—how much has been written about Burton, Scorsese, and Growing Up Jewish in America?—but the quirky even-handedness of her approach. Nothing is too trivial to be taken seriously (e.g., sun-tanning) or too tragic to find its place in the scheme of daily life. Merkin's approach to both the solemn and the silly is at once good-humored and erudite, nonjudgmental and literate, emotionally adventurous. Merkin calls it ``risk-taking at one remove.'' Nevertheless, her expression of the ``truths that get whispered between women in private'' is on the edge, as in the chapters ``On Not Becoming a Lesbian'' and ``Spanking: A Romance.'' In the former, her preference for women as friends and companions does not translate into sexual preference, but a predilection for spanking as foreplay is confessed in the latter. A section exploring being a Jew includes the title essay, about both the Holocaust and self-hatred. It is at once extremely personal (they are, after all, her dreams) and universal (who hasn't had a fantasy of saving the world?). The author looks at the dark side of the human spirit without guilt or shame. Pungent observations tempered by graceful interpretation—and some very sharp wit.

Pub Date: June 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-517-70626-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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