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LONGER REVIEW: Rue's Butterfly

A tough, uplifting account of a spouse’s terminal illness—and helpful advice for survivors.

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In this debut memoir, a woman reflects on the life lessons she learned from caring for her mortally ill husband.

Welser relates how she was in her mid-30s, climbing the corporate ladder to greater and greater success, when her life took an unexpected turn. After experiencing a flurry of health issues, her husband, Ray, developed glioblastoma multiforme grade IV, a type of brain cancer so serious that the National Institutes of Health nicknamed it “The Terminator.” Ray lived less than a year after his diagnosis, and suddenly the author found herself a widow. In these pages, she recounts the story of Ray’s illness, told in part through excerpts from the journal she kept throughout the ordeal. “I need a scorecard to keep track,” goes one such entry, “but yesterday, we met with the medical oncologist and the radiation oncologist” is set for today. She fills these sections of her memoir with both the details of her husband’s medical condition and her own striking memories of the experience. “Life support machines make sounds that embed themselves in your brain,” she writes. “They haunt you long after you hear them.” She takes readers through every step of Ray’s decline, including how his cancer affected him mentally, and it’s all written with a direct immediacy. Eventually, the story moves to a hospice and then a funeral home, after which Welser turned her attention to how to live in a world suddenly very changed: “Positive thinking and affirmations help the brain reset itself.” In the final section of her book, she advocates the kind of “emotional agility” that helped her survive.

Readers who have been through personal or medical trials like the author’s will appreciate this upbeat approach as well as Welser’s useful advice for surviving the journey (such as having a “go-to” bag that includes Band-Aids, antibacterial spray, and extra pens). This combination of dogged optimism and practical counsel animates the whole volume, adding it to the subgenre of books by authors who have coped with terminal illness. Readers get the doctor visits, the daily struggles, the momentary flutterings of hope, and the sad resignation that accompany the end of a loved one’s life. This is very effectively done, and Welser transitions her recollections smoothly to the memoir’s final section, which concentrates more on the life lessons she drew from her horrible experience of suddenly finding herself living in a world without the husband with whom she’d planned on spending her entire life. Her guidance in this strand of her story is uniformly quiet and encouraging: “Take a deep breath. A loved one being diagnosed with an illness like this one forces us to face our own mortality.” One strategy that the author stresses involves a “bucket list”—the common self-help idea of creating an inventory of things you want to do before you die in order to feel that you’ve lived life to the fullest. Her own list includes such items as “feed a koala” and “participate in a flash mob.” Welser’s invitation for readers to both compile their own lists and put them into practice will fill fellow travelers with much needed hope in their worst hours.

A tough, uplifting account of a spouse’s terminal illness—and helpful advice for survivors.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 979-8885040761

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2022

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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LOVE, PAMELA

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

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The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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