A fertile trove that needs a stronger framework.

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LOVE, H

THE LETTERS OF HELENE DORN AND HETTIE JONES

Letters revealing the enduring friendship of two “beat chicks.”

In 1990, poet, children’s book author, and memoirist Jones (Writing/New School; Doing Seventy, 2007, etc.) published How I Became Hettie Jones, which recalled “sixties bohemia” and her marriage to poet and activist LeRoi Jones (later, Amiri Baraka) and featured figures such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Joyce Johnson. “Scholars have tended to heroicize ‘beat chicks’ who lived through that scene and got out alive,” she writes; her memoir was both testimony and corrective. Urged by friends to continue her story, Jones has chosen to select from 40 years of correspondence with Helene Dorn (1927-2004), an artist and ex-wife of poet Ed Dorn. Like poems, Jones says, letters “offer voices.” However, readers unfamiliar with the writers would be well-served by contextualizing information, including a more detailed introduction to the volume and to each of the 17 chapters. Jones does provide some narrative linking the letters but not enough to round out a coherent story of each woman’s life. What does emerge is an inkling of the friendship, understanding, and empathy between the two women who saw themselves as “Babes in Boyland.” Both were raising their children alone, and both struggled financially and artistically. Jones, living in New York, had more opportunities: she taught writing, gave readings, and made publishing connections. Dorn, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, seems more isolated. Some letters are just a few lines, some appear to be excerpted, and some were sent as emails, a challenging medium, especially for Dorn. The letters include mundane events such as car and computer trouble; opinions about books, movies, and art shows; gossip; commiseration about illness, housing troubles, and the challenges of aging; and, occasionally, politics. In 1988, for example, to support Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, Jones vowed to buy no more grapes. In 1989, she describes her experience at a pro-choice rally in Washington. Both were overcome with dismay after 9/11.

A fertile trove that needs a stronger framework.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8223-6146-6

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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