A moving, complex homage to a set of mothers.

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MISSING PERSONS

In this memoir, an author recounts her efforts to deal with the death of her mother.

When Greene (The Woman Who Knew Too Much, 2017, etc.) was a child, her father abandoned her mother, Agnes, for a younger woman. The author was largely raised by her mother and her maternal aunt, Paddy. Agnes was left in the lurch in the 1950s, a tough time for a mother of two to be single and unemployed. As a result, she was often emotionally volatile—Greene describes her paroxysms of fury as “operatic.” The author sought solace in literature: “Novels are where I’m at home because they’re a way of not being at home, not being in my own skin, a way of disappearing in the words and worlds of others, taking on the shapes of other lives.” She wanted to flee from Agnes—Greene was stricken with “matrophobia,” or the fear of becoming like her—and escaped to New York City to earn a doctorate in English literature from Columbia University, where her studies focused on Shakespeare. While she was working as a college professor in California, both Agnes and Paddy became seriously ill, compelling the author to step in and lend a hand. When Paddy suddenly died, Greene was left as the sole caretaker of Agnes—years before, the author’s brother, Billy, took his own life. Greene assumed power of attorney for Agnes, arranged for nursing and hospice care in her home, and then managed the aftermath of her inevitable death. The basket of practical tasks—arranging for the cremation, hosting a memorial, selling the house, for example—catalyzed the author to deeply examine her mother’s life and the powerful emotional legacy that she bequeathed.  Greene’s memoir is much more a meditative reflection than an exhaustive autobiographical history—she largely focuses on the period directly before and after her mother’s death. But the author’s struggle to come to terms with Agnes’ passing becomes a portal to a much broader spectrum of philosophically astute soul-searching, including her brother’s suicide and her own romantic travails. For example, she discusses her long-distance relationship with Bob, her boyfriend, with impressive candor. Greene’s writing is precisely what you’d expect from a professor of literature: elegant, poetical, and dotted with references to Joan Didion, Robert Frost, and many other luminaries. And the author not only discusses the emotional blow of Agnes’ and Paddy’s deaths—her twin mothers—but also the way in which your identity, for better or worse, is moored in the existence of your mother: “The story of a life makes a kind of sense when your mother’s there to know it. But when she dies, the narrative threads unravel,” the self itself is “undone, for there can be no self without a story, no story of a life that makes a life make sense.” Greene’s reminisces are thoughtful, emotionally affecting, beautifully expressed, and, despite the gravity of the subject, punctuated with lighthearted humor as well.

A moving, complex homage to a set of mothers. 

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943859-46-7

Page Count: 244

Publisher: University of Nevada Press

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2018

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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