CITIES ON A HILL

A JOURNEY THROUGH CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTURES

The Pulitzer-prize-winning author (Fire in the Lake) turns a penetrating gaze on four recently evolved "communities" which, she contends, exemplify America's unique penchant for abandoning the culture of the mainstream to set up diverse, self-contained societies. The first of these is "The Castro," a San Francisco neighborhood of young, primarily male homosexuals who once believed that they were at the forefront of the Sexual Revolution. In recent years, AIDS has decimated their numbers and virtually destroyed their political and social activism. Like the Castro, the retirement community of Sun City, Florida, is "something new under the sun." History has never recorded an overtly gay male community with its own tribal rituals and political organizations, nor have towns restricted entirely to older people existed prior to the mid-20th century. On the other hand, Reverend Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist Church of Lynchburg, Va., and his vociferous Moral Majority are neither unique nor particularly new. Fitzgerald documents their roots in the revivalist upswing of the 1820's and the later "born-again' Christian movement. Falwell's constituency is, however, a community apart from the mainstream in that it adheres to a way of life in which moral values, political judgments and day-to-day decisions are dictated from the pulpit—electronic or actual. The most bizarre community Fitzgerald scrutinizes is the Oregon town called Razneeshpuram, which attracted numerous well-heeled professionals devoted to joyous consciousness-raising and to the establishment of a unique center for worldwide spiritual enlightenment. Almost from its beginnings, the commune alienated its neighbors and, eventually, all of Oregon. It self-destructed in a series of lawsuits and government fraud citations. In analyzing these societies, Fitzgerald supplies a wealth of information on the economic, cultural, spiritual and political forces that brought them about. She virtually immerses herself into each and hobnobs with the people involved in them and with their leaders—except for the guru, Rajneesh, who had taken a vow of silence. The end result is reportage of imposing depth and breadth. Her insights are fascinating, sometimes amusing, often troubling and always stimulating.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1986

ISBN: 0330298453

Page Count: 414

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY

The undisputed champion of the self-conscious and the self-deprecating returns with yet more autobiographical gems from his apparently inexhaustible cache (Naked, 1997, etc.).

Sedaris at first mines what may be the most idiosyncratic, if innocuous, childhood since the McCourt clan. Here is father Lou, who’s propositioned, via phone, by married family friend Mrs. Midland (“Oh, Lou. It just feels so good to . . . talk to someone who really . . . understands”). Only years later is it divulged that “Mrs. Midland” was impersonated by Lou’s 12-year-old daughter Amy. (Lou, to the prankster’s relief, always politely declined Mrs. Midland’s overtures.) Meanwhile, Mrs. Sedaris—soon after she’s put a beloved sick cat to sleep—is terrorized by bogus reports of a “miraculous new cure for feline leukemia,” all orchestrated by her bitter children. Brilliant evildoing in this family is not unique to the author. Sedaris (also an essayist on National Public Radio) approaches comic preeminence as he details his futile attempts, as an adult, to learn the French language. Having moved to Paris, he enrolls in French class and struggles endlessly with the logic in assigning inanimate objects a gender (“Why refer to Lady Flesh Wound or Good Sir Dishrag when these things could never live up to all that their sex implied?”). After months of this, Sedaris finds that the first French-spoken sentiment he’s fully understood has been directed to him by his sadistic teacher: “Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section.” Among these misadventures, Sedaris catalogs his many bugaboos: the cigarette ban in New York restaurants (“I’m always searching the menu in hope that some courageous young chef has finally recognized tobacco as a vegetable”); the appending of company Web addresses to television commercials (“Who really wants to know more about Procter & Gamble?”); and a scatological dilemma that would likely remain taboo in most households.

Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-316-77772-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more