A SONG FOR MARY

AN IRISH-AMERICAN MEMORY

A richly detailed, lovingly told memoir of the author’s tempestuous 1950s boyhood in an Irish-Italian neighborhood of New York City. Smith (Firefighters: Their Lives in Their Own Words, 1988, etc.), his older brother, Billy, and his disciplinarian mother, Mary, lived in a squalid, roach-infested tenement building on New York’s Lower East Side. The family was on welfare; their absent father resided in an insane asylum upstate, creating a “big empty hole” at the center of their impoverished existence. While brother Billy was an exemplary child, Dennis had a nose for trouble, consistently being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would hang around with the neighborhood hoodlums, joyriding in stolen cars, fighting in drunken brawls, buying heroin in Harlem, and quitting school at 15. He was hellbent on self-destruction. Through it all, his mother fought a seemingly futile battle to save her son from a future of despair. She stayed up waiting for his return from an all-night bender, demanding an explanation. “Like a cop from the 17th Precinct,” she was the conscience that wouldn’t let him surrender to the lure of the streets. She wasn—t alone in caring for Smith: brother Billy passed out advice and the occasional beating; a respected Boys’ Club counselor named Archie demanded that Dennis stop wasting his life. Catholic school helped, bequeathing him a guilt-ridden conscience that hamstrung his adolescent sex life. By the time he was facing imprisonment for assault, smith understoond his mother’s message. By book’s end, he’s transformed his life, earning his GED, joining the New York City Fire Department, getting married, and becoming an upstanding citizen. The final few pages are a paean to the American values of hard work and caring for others. Like Pete Hamil in A Drinking Life, Smith has written an absorbing memoir that vividly re-creates the pains and joys of an impoverished Irish-American boyhood. (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-446-52447-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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