Well-meaning and obviously cathartic, but hardly transformative.

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I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY

THE ASTONISHING BUT TRUE STORY OF A DAUGHTER, SISTER, SLUT, WIFE, MOTHER, AND FRIEND TO MAN AND DOG

Chirpy, largely forgettable essays on relationships.

Joseph (Creative Writing/Minnesota State Univ., Mankato) assumes a kind of Everywoman tone in these vignettes about the men in her life. There are moments of sharp, biting prose, especially in the first essay, “Tongue Twister, Tongue Tied,” in which her father—a kind of chain-smoking Ralph Cramden who rarely wore a shirt and referred to her brothers as “assholes”—lectures the author as a young girl about sex only once, offering advice on promiscuity (“when a girl goes with this one, and then with that one, and then with that one over there, and with who knows how many others, what happens is people start to talk”). The first man who swept her off her feet was a hapless older demolition-derby racer (“Love in the Age of Ick”) who called her Momma and wanted to fatten her up to increase her “rack.” “Did I really love him,” wonders Joseph, “or did I just hate myself?” In “What’s (Not) Simple,” she delineates her relationship with her first husband, Karl Bennett, a man twice-divorced, 20 years her elder and with a daughter three years younger than she: “I sort of suspected he had some weird ideas about what a woman’s place might be.” Regardless, they married when she was six months pregnant; the product of that ill-starred union is called “the boy” in subsequent essays. He was born on Hitler’s birthday, had “trench foot” because he rarely took baths or changed socks, stayed indoors to play video games and held alarming political opinions. Nonetheless, Joseph assures us he was adorable. Her frank character portraits flay her subjects as blithely as herself—for example, her friend Andrew Boyle must have been a pervert because he took “art photos” of his naked girlfriends (“It’s Me. It’s Him. It’s Them”), and the hard-drinking English chair at the university where she taught routinely insulted her when drunk (“Lighten Up”). The low-key approach often veers into flat-footed, hackneyed prose.

Well-meaning and obviously cathartic, but hardly transformative.

Pub Date: March 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-399-15528-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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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

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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