WALKING WITH GHOSTS

A melancholy but gemlike memoir, elegantly written and rich in hard experience.

The acclaimed Irish actor recalls his path to success and the well-cloaked turmoil he faced along the way.

It’d go too far to say that Byrne (b. 1950), star of The Usual Suspects and In Treatment, is as fine a writer as his countrymen James Joyce and Seamus Heaney. However, he writes with much more depth than the typical celebrity memoirist, accessing some of Heaney’s earthiness and Joyce’s grasp of how Catholic guilt can shape an artist. Growing up in Dublin, he aspired at first to be a priest, seduced by images of “young lads with dodgy haircuts, beatific smiles gazing heavenward to answer the call to the priesthood.” But a priest’s sexual assault soured him on the church, and he stumbled through a variety of menial jobs, including a stint as “a toilet attendant at a major Dublin hotel.” There’s no cheerful tone of dues-paying here: Pride isn’t in Byrne’s nature (he saw it drown a childhood friend who died bragging he could hold his breath). The author grew up with a schizophrenic sister who died young, developed a slow-growing alcoholism, and feared abject failure. The sudden success of The Usual Suspects left him with “such tumult in my mind I was afraid I would fall down and be found weeping in the street.” Despite the darkness, Byrne also possesses a winning dry humor that reads as authentically humble: his mother finding ways to cut him down to size in public by sharing embarrassing childhood stories, the time he had to audition for Hamlet using a motorcycle helmet for Yorick’s skull. There’s little in the way of celebrity dishing, but the author shares a boozy conversation with Sir Richard Burton, who cautioned him that fame is “a sweet poison you drink of first in eager gulps. Then you come to loathe it.” Byrne is an impressive chronicler of both his eager gulping and his loathing.

A melancholy but gemlike memoir, elegantly written and rich in hard experience.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5712-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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LOVE, PAMELA

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

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The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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