Genuinely remorseful and heartfelt, yet strangely unremarkable.

HALF A LIFE

Redress and atonement mar a boy’s adolescence after the accidental death of a classmate.

In 1988, Strauss (Writing/New York Univ.; More Than It Hurts You, 2008, etc.), one month shy of his high-school graduation, struck Celine Zilke while out on a joyride with friends in his hometown of Glen Head, Long Island. Zilke, a popular 16-year-old girl who was the “lively athletic type,” remained unconscious and succumbed to her injuries a day after the accident. “No charges were filed,” and Strauss was deemed innocent by “unprovisional absolution.” The author suffered through Celine’s funeral and endured endless days of painful introspection and the shame of his classmates’ collective shunning. Some of these early events may strike some readers as implausible—his astonishingly indifferent parents’ advice to go to the movies after the accident, or that the author “slept soundly” that same night. The complexity of his burgeoning emotions would be nothing compared to the million-dollar lawsuit Celine’s once-forgiving parents shockingly filed while Strauss was in his first year at Tufts University. Before the trial, the author suspected that Celine had committed suicide since she’d foretold her death, to the exact day, in a journal. The lawsuit proceedings stalled for five years (“like when a dark sky decides not to rain”) and eventually the case dissolved, but the lasting effects of the event haunted an obsessive Strauss for decades, with lasting emotional, sociological and physical implications. At age 30, his new wife Susannah offered the strength and levelheadedness needed for the author to cope with his overwhelming survivor’s guilt. Strauss tells his “accident memoir” in economical, well-honed prose, oscillating between the remorseful and the glib, but benign platitudes about shock (“If everything couldn’t continue as planned, no real plans could be made”), death, Manhattan and relationships often feel like filler.

Genuinely remorseful and heartfelt, yet strangely unremarkable.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-934781-70-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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

INTO THE WILD

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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