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A lifetime’s worth of workbench philosophy in a heartfelt memoir about the connection between a father and son.

A middle-age man and his father bond over the building of the son’s coffin.

Giffels (English and Creative Nonfiction/Univ. of Akron; The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt, 2014, etc.) has written for a wide variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Magazine, Grantland, and Beavis and Butt-Head (an association that he illuminates in these pages). However, in this highly personal book, he casts himself as very much his father’s son, a can-do man of the Midwest, someone who is happiest when he is busy with some sort of project. The author calls it “ ‘the family disease.’ A restlessness, a compulsion to keep doing things, doing new things and newer things yet, a discomfort with comfort.” So he and his father decided to build a coffin together—but not one for the father, an 81-year-old widower whose own life had been threatened by cancer. They built one for the author, who was in no immediate need of one, except perhaps for literary purposes and for the need to finish the project before his father died. “One of my goals with this endeavor was to learn from him—practical skills and hopefully more,” writes Giffels. “Whatever he would allow. And just to have reason to spend extra time with him.” Intimations of mortality intensified as the author lost his best friend to cancer, shortly following the death of the author’s mother, which had blindsided him. “Grief,” he writes, “has a way of becoming about everything in one’s daily existence….Everything bathed in the sadness of loss.” So, in addition to providing a bonding opportunity with his father, the coffin became a way of dealing with grief and with mortality.

A lifetime’s worth of workbench philosophy in a heartfelt memoir about the connection between a father and son.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0594-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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