THE FOUR OF US

THE STORY OF A FAMILY

Swados (Listening Out Loud, 1988, etc.), a writer/composer best known for the musical Runaways, offers a painful memoir of growing-up in a family beset by mental illness—with compelling ghastliness in many of the details but insufficient overall drama or insight. A brief prologue introduces the family: the Swadoses—Jewish, upper middle class—in 1950's and 1960's Buffalo, where ``appearance was everything.'' Then come four long chapters, each focusing on one member of the family. First, and always foremost, is Elizabeth's schizophrenic older brother, Lincoln: eccentric, filthy, and brilliant as a child, he fell wildly ill during college, attempted suicide at 24 (losing an arm and a leg), and became a Lower East Side ``character'' who eventually died in wretched isolation. Next Swados turns to her depressed, alcoholic mother—sporadically creative but ``in her heart...a lonely orphan'' who committed suicide when the pressures (her son's condition, her suffocating marriage) became too much. Then there is father Robert, who reacted to the family illnesses (including his mother's schizophrenia) with rage and sheer activity, losing himself in an all-consuming sports-law career. And finally there's Elizabeth herself, always driven to be ``the child about whom my father could tell stories to his clients'': She overachieved like crazy, composing and performing, getting admitted to Bennington at 16, scoring Medea at La Mama for Andrei Serban at 19; she also exhausted herself with wild living, determined not to be like her conformist parents. The four-part structure here makes for a repetitious and often anticlimactic narrative, without satisfying shape or development. Swados's prose doesn't have enough variety or grace to fill out such an ambitious design. But her sincere attempt to understand her family's misery is often affecting, and the story of brother ``Lincoln Sail'' (as he called himself) is, though disjointed, grimly fascinating.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-15219-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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McWilliams presents a solid argument, though it is not as radical or inspiring as he may have hoped, and the book could use...

EATING PROMISCUOUSLY

ADVENTURES IN THE FUTURE OF FOOD

A food writer and historian argues that humans would be healthier with a more diverse diet.

McWilliams (History/Texas State Univ.; The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, 2015, etc.) continues the attack on foodies, locavores, highbrow restaurants, and agribusiness’s “corn-soy-sugar-animal complex” that he mounted in previous books. Here, the author profiles quirky individuals who are “pursuing peripheral culinary goals” that “have the potential to revolutionize how we think about the human diet.” The author’s overriding assumption is that it would be better for people, animals, and the environment if our diets were more diversified. Hundreds of plants and protein sources, he rightly notes, are overlooked in favor of a narrow range of food. McWilliams hopes for a “global food system that’s accessible, flexible, abundant, sustainable, healthy, humane, and resourceful.” How that ideal could be achieved is left to readers’ imaginations. The author champions the bonobo, which eats a diverse array of plants, insects, grubs, and shellfish, and cavemen, who hunted and foraged for all their food. McWilliams begins by focusing on the Reeds, obese parents and son who have been victimized, he contends, by “a food system that rendered them emotionally depressed, physically sick, and socially ostracized.” Determined to lose weight, they embarked on a diet and exercise program and achieved success within a short time. However, as the author acknowledges, their struggle will be lifelong, embedded as they are in a food culture intent on undermining them. Among others profiled are a family that exists on foraged plants and venison, felled with a bow and arrow; a man who gathers and sells seaweed; an insect farmer promoting the nutritional value of bugs; oyster farmers; and a motley group of freegans, who forage among trash bags outside of markets and restaurants. Sadly, writes the author, over 40 percent of food in America is thrown out.

McWilliams presents a solid argument, though it is not as radical or inspiring as he may have hoped, and the book could use more focused attention on creating the ideal world the author envisions.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-735-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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A realistic, motivating conversation about weight loss for those who have tried everything else and failed.

THE JOY OF EATING

Part memoir and part pep talk, this debut book urges dieters to stop counting fat grams and learn to enjoy food.

When her mother died, Irwin was devastated. She was also mortified that old friends would see her at the funeral because she had “gained so much weight.” Trapped in a cycle of yo-yo dieting that had begun when she was in junior high, Irwin was a size 22 by the time she was in her 40s. Miserable, she constantly berated herself while agonizing over calories and eating prepackaged diet industry food. Then one day Irwin decided to stop dieting and love herself at any weight, eating without guilt or shame. A big believer in the “law of attraction,” where thoughts create reality, she began thinking positively about herself. Retraining her mind to view food as pleasurable nourishment, she started eating nutrient-dense items—including leafy green vegetables and fruits. And if she wanted a piece of cake—well, she just went ahead and devoured it. The pounds began coming off naturally, and as time passed, Irwin’s once overweight body became fit. This dramatic and familiar life story quickly turns into an upbeat motivational speech for stressed-out dieters, as Irwin divulges her no-frills secret for healthy weight loss—eat good food and feel great about it. While this common-sense approach isn’t new, diet-disgusted readers who don’t mind a curse word or two may be able to relate to Irwin’s friendly, plainspoken voice, as when she describes dysfunctional labels people often place on food: “How about this classic attitude, ‘Fuck it, I’ve been so bad this week I think I’ll just eat the rest of this box of cookies’?” Some of the author’s inspirational thoughts are memorable: she compares the negative voice in her head to a bully who shouldn’t be tolerated. Light on diet jargon and health-related facts (the author mentions that 68.5 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, but she doesn't cite sources), this thin, fast-paced work can be read in a couple of hours.

A realistic, motivating conversation about weight loss for those who have tried everything else and failed.    

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5043-6051-7

Page Count: 124

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

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