This collection could have used more variety, but the preponderance of stories on human mortality doesn't make it a downer;...


Sickness, murder, death, sudden loss—the latest installment in this venerable series skews heavily toward personal essays in which people face up to life’s overwhelming sadness.

Paul Crenshaw (“After the Ice”) recalls the infant nephew who was murdered by his stepfather; Madge McKeithen (“What Really Happened”) details her prison visit to see a man who murdered his wife, who was the author’s best friend. The poet Toi Derricotte (“Beds”) tells of her lifelong love-hate battle with an abusive father. In “Grieving,” Meenakshi Gigi Durham watches as her academic husband is denied tenure, and assesses what it means for a dedicated professional to suddenly find himself in free-fall. Christopher Hitchens (“Topic of Cancer”) faces a wretched diagnosis with his usual unsentimental eloquence, as he goes “from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.” The strongest, most interesting essays put a face on larger issues. In “What Broke My Father’s Heart,” Katy Butler tells how her father’s pacemaker allowed his body to live long after his brain stopped functioning; the essay raises tough questions about how expensive medical care can exacerbate more pain than it relieves. Charlie LeDuff’s deeply reported “What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?” takes a case that went horribly wrong—a 7-year-old girl killed when cops busted into the wrong apartment—and uses it as a reflection on how crime-ridden Detroit has become a toxic environment for residents and innocent bystanders alike. In another big-picture piece, “Generation Why?” Zadie Smith assesses how Facebook is a perfect reflection of the shallow mind of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Other contributors include Hilton Als, Mischa Berlinski and Pico Iyer.

This collection could have used more variety, but the preponderance of stories on human mortality doesn't make it a downer; the brave voices behind these experiences keep the pages turning.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-47977-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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