A smart, occasionally wise, and always entertaining recollection of addiction, crime, punishment, and recovery.

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DOPE SACKS, DYE PACKS AND THE LONG WELCOME BACK

In this raucous debut memoir, an addict hits bottom in spectacular fashion by getting arrested for a string of bank robberies.

Piotter describes a Seattle boyhood tangled in familial and personal dysfunctions: an authoritarian yet deadbeat dad, swerving between frauds and gambling binges; a defeated, alcoholic mom; and junior high pot smoking and dealing that served as a gateway into serious cocaine and heroin addictions. His adulthood was even more chaotic as he weathered homelessness, jail stints, gangsters who beat and shot at him, epic benders with druggies and prostitutes, and a ceaseless, exhausting search for anything he could steal—including oscillating fans, driving gloves, and a box of raw oysters—to feed his $500-a-day habit. It was with palpable relief that in 1993, after a spell as a gentleman bandit knocking over local banks, he was sentenced to nine and a half years in a federal penitentiary. There, Piotter began an unlikely turnaround as he received treatment for his addictions, kept his nose relatively clean, and learned construction trades. He’s a keen observer of the prison’s often bizarre and occasionally noble characters and twisted moral economy; for example, in one sequence fraught with chilling irony, a sober friend flushes his dealer cellmate’s stash down the toilet to avoid a search by guards, which puts him in debt to the prison’s Colombian cartel, who in turn extract repayment by making him kill one of their Mexican rivals. Piotter’s narrative unfolds as a picaresque of brief, punchy, shaggy dog stories; even after his release, as he stays sober, starts a construction company, and woos his wary future wife, he’s still beset by lurid happenstances, including road-rage episodes, a public sea lion orgy, and the hanging suicide of his neighbor. His storytelling is briskly paced, evocative, and laced with piquant character sketches and wisecracks such as, “I’m allergic to alcohol; every time I drink I break out in handcuffs.” The author’s life, as portrayed here, contains enough screw-ups for 10 dysfunctionality memoirs, but unlike other memoirists, he eschews angst and self-pity and highlights the absurd humor of the predicaments he made for himself. The pathos here is all the more moving for being spare, understated, and well-earned from hard experience.

A smart, occasionally wise, and always entertaining recollection of addiction, crime, punishment, and recovery.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9965800-0-7

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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