PRAIRIE SON

The harrowing story of his father’s youth on the Minnesota prairie, from novelist Clausen (Ghost Lover, not reviewed). When Clausen’s father, Lloyd, died, he left (at his son’s request) a rough outline of his life. Clausen päre had mostly been absent during Clausen fils’s growing up; he was a cipher, though Dennis did know that Lloyd had had a rotten life as a child. So, using his father’s sketch as a starting point, and broadening the story with material gathered from historical societies and newspapers of the time (and his father’s few acquaintances), Clausen recreates his father’s young manhood. And a sorry story it is. The author tells, in his father’s voice, of being adopted by a farm family, not as a cherished member of the clan, but as cheap labor. Throughout the early years, he is ignored (when not being stropped) by his father and routinely tormented and physically abused by his mother. As a young boy, he summarized his life as “chores, beatings, long hours locked up in the cellar.” He takes solace in his dogs; feels confusion over the dark car that pulls up to the house when his father is out working in the fields; and is ineffably grateful for the small acts of kindness shown him by neighbors. The family’s hard luck is so rudely ever-present, it’s as though they are the target of some malicious force: harvests go bad, cream is contaminated, the mother’s affair is discovered (repeatedly), the hogs get cholera, the bank forecloses. Clausen lightens the tale with evocations of the rural landscape and with the rare sweet character’such as the Sanders brothers, who built windmills all day and played their violins at twilight. Sounding an authentic tone, the author steers clear of psychologizing, although his —knowing— innocence can aggravate. It’s almost impossible to finish this chronicle of classic wretchedness without feeling a sudden appreciation for all things decent in one’s life.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-922811-39-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

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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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