CHIAROSCURO

ESSAYS OF IDENTITY

Novelist Barolini (Umbertina, 1979, etc.) provides an uneven collection of essays that wander in that unclear terrain which links the search for her Italian cultural origins with her essentially American upbringing. Her drive toward artistic expression is informed by her search for a voice and its true territory. The author misses the powerful inspiration that exists in feeling ostracized by ethnicity. She feels a burdensome need to punish the publishing and academic worlds for not having heralded an Italian-American literary tradition, but her argument fails. She quotes widely from a rich tradition of American writers on the importance of being a voice from the outside, but she doesn't hear herself when she cites Garc°a M†rquez: ``The revolutionary duty [of a writer] if you like, is simply to write well.'' Only rarely does Barolini let her own creativity fly. She shows us what she can do in chapters on her earliest intimations of a writerly self; her adult experiences in Rome, where the American and the Italian in her finally meet (this latter was only acquired in adulthood, while living and raising children there); and a loose charting of the wonders of language, in which she maintains her ``belief . . . that any writer from a marginalized position is writing in the most American of traditions—that of the Outsider.'' At last. Too often, she cannot override her need to state and restate the business of being a woman, an Italian woman, and an Italian woman writer. She is at her best when she writes the way memory feels, as when she links her home on James Street in a small upstate New York town with her thoughts about Henry James, or when she cringes at remembering her first encounter with John Cheever through a screen door in her home in Croton, N.Y. She writes richly about her Catholic upbringing, letting us know that she is determined to be heard. If only she could focus on the life at hand—and leave literary proselytizing to commentators.

Pub Date: July 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-884419-11-9

Page Count: 170

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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