An alternately wistful and searing exploration of a troubled legacy.

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A daughter’s vibrant relationship with her father decays into warfare and abuse in this coming-of-age memoir.

As a young girl growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Garber (True Affections, 2011, etc.) thought that her architect father, Woodie, was the most charismatic man in the world; she even took up his interest in modernist design. With her mother, Jo, and two younger brothers, she helped him build his dream house in the Cincinnati suburb of Glendale, Ohio—a sleek, rectilinear structure that “shimmered like a white mirage...the crushed glass wall panels sparkling, while the Great Room blazed as if on fire, red, orange, and wood reflected and glowed inside the long glass walls.” In Garber’s warm evocation, the house, complete with Eames furniture, abstract sculptures, and Dave Brubeck records playing on the hi-fi, seems the perfect backdrop for avant-garde family togetherness, circa 1966. But slowly, a gradual accretion of disquieting detail spoils the gleaming facade as she reveals the dark side of her father’s world. Woodie’s ebullience, she writes, was an aspect of his bipolar disorder, which alternated with bouts of depression that kept him in bed for weeks. His compulsion to be the architect of every element of his surroundings extended to his family, whom he tormented with strict rules, constant demands to do heavy landscaping labor, and harangues about alleged laziness and lack of integrity, which grew more caustic as a difficult project frayed his nerves. He felt threatened by Jo’s desire to return to college and her turn toward prison-reform activism, Garber says, and when the white author brought home an African-American boyfriend, her father disapproved. Garber gives a subtle, nerve-wracking account of a familiar generational conflict that tore apart countless families in the ’60s, as fathers found their paternal authority challenged by rebellious daughters, long-haired sons, and wives who wanted more fulfilling roles. In this case, the intensifying confrontation pitted Woodie’s tirades against his family’s muted but mounting defiance. But the author also tells of a far more disturbing aspect of Woodie’s domestic tyranny—his ongoing sexual abuse of the teenage Garber. As the household spirals toward dissolution, Garber paints an indelible portrait of the claustrophobic hell that a dysfunctional family can become and of her own anguish and confusion over Woodie’s abuse, to which she responded with denial. She’s cleareyed in her depiction of his monstrous behavior, but she also portrays the magnetic pull of his personality and his role in shaping her own sensibility. She also acknowledges the irony of an iconoclastic modernist's not being able to cope with modernity. In prose that’s simultaneously poetic and incisive, she even finds the frail humanity behind her father’s power plays and mood swings; “Crying out, he was small and pitiful, like a statue of a dictator pulled down by peasants,” she writes of Woodie's collapsing from a heart fibrillation. Many readers will see aspects of their own family histories in this powerful saga of trauma and healing.

An alternately wistful and searing exploration of a troubled legacy.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-351-9

Page Count: 360

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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