Gaines’s fiction glistens. The rest of the book, a fault of its editors, does not.

MOZART AND LEADBELLY

STORIES AND ESSAYS

An unfortunate mixed-genre collection of bad essays, competent short stories and an edited transcript of a dull conversation meant to honor the author of A Lesson Before Dying (1993).

The editors of this mess should have listened to Gaines when, as they inform us in their windy introduction, he said he was “not really enthusiastic” about the idea. But the editors wanted to pay him tribute (Gaines was retiring from the Univ. of Louisiana at Lafayette), and they wanted to assemble pieces that had either not been published or had appeared in journals with limited circulation. The six essays appear, mostly, to be edited versions of talks Gaines gave about his books when they were initially released. The pieces have an informality about them—an appealing conversational tone. But they are very repetitive. He tells the same anecdotes about his Southern boyhood, his love of reading, his difficulties with his first novel, the influences of music—jazz, the blues, some classical pieces—his attempts to capture his characters’ voices. Each essay has its moments, but each is stitched together with the same pale threads. Among the five stories is a dazzler, “Mary Louise,” that describes the agony of epiphany as the eponymous protagonist realizes her girlhood dream has been just that. Two of the other tales (“Boy in the Double-Breasted Suit” and “My Grandpa and the Haint”) are also very good and show in colorful fashion the influences of Faulkner and the blues that Gaines discusses elsewhere (several times). “The Turtles,” a very early story, has principally biographical significance for those interested in Gaines’s development. The long interview (from 2002) that closes the volume is just plain embarrassing (for the editors). Gaines’s two interlocutors seem more interested in recording their own comments about writing and literature and influence than in highlighting the author’s. He confesses, for example, no knowledge or interest in rap and hip-hop; they discuss the subjects anyway.

Gaines’s fiction glistens. The rest of the book, a fault of its editors, does not.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4472-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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