A DRESSER OF SYCAMORE TREES

THE FINDING OF A MINISTRY

An overwrought account of a churchman's daily life, written by an English teacher who serves as ``lay vicar'' of a small Vermont parish. Keizer seems to be a likeable and earnest young man; he is certainly guileless. We are given, at the start, an extremely meticulous account of the undefined yearnings that led him first to consider, then to reject, the vocation of an Anglican priest. He chose instead to become a schoolteacher and accepted a post in the ``Northeast Kingdom,'' a remote area of upper Vermont. His religious convictions remained strong, however, and he became deeply involved in the activities of his local parish—so much so that he was asked to assume leadership of it when the pastor retired. It is obvious that Keizer was the right man for the job- -his love for his work and his parishioners is proclaimed on nearly every page—but once this much has been established, he seems to have very little to say. His ordinary routine of prayer and work (Sunday services, visits to the sick, committee meetings) is duly set forth, but it is hard to see the drama that Keizer imputes to these events. Basically, this is a story that we have heard many times before: It takes all kinds; most people are decent; many are unhappy; quite a few are confused; and some are just no good. Keizer's fond excitement, while undoubtedly sincere, seems out of all proportion, and his apocalyptic prose—a monastery chapel, for instance, is described as ``a fragment of Eden full of possibilities in which one vaguely heard a serpentine hissing''- -doesn't help matters along very much. Well intentioned but bland. Instead of strip-mining his life for morals and epiphanies, Keizer would have done better to let events speak for themselves.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-670-82723-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1991

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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