An intriguing, if uneven, debut.

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NOTES ON JACKSON AND HIS DEAD

Eighteen stories that flirt with both psychological horror and philosophical speculation through the unremitting setting of the ordinary life.

Fulham-McQuillan’s debut collection introduces the reader to a cast of hapless characters embroiled in situations that are increasingly difficult to define. In the title story, the speaker is a documentary filmmaker exalting in the singular opportunity to film Jackson, a former conductor beset by a sort of viral existentialism that results in all his past selves manifesting as corpses in the wake of his every movement. In “whiteroom” a man and his late wife have reduced their lives to the eternal simplicity of their pure white room in order to enter into a fraught immortality of the mind. In “A Tourist,” a man attracted by the memory of himself standing in a place before it fell to ruin “[visits] the grief of his past,” setting up camp in a desolate valley where he is haunted by a duo of shadowy others who attempt both communication and violence. To call these stories heady is an understatement of both their intent and form. Deeply influenced by continental philosophy (Kierkegaard is mentioned, Lacan is evoked, Simone Weil is quoted), the book also plays with the formal influence of Poe’s sensual grotesques, Dostoevsky’s tormented psychological realism, Borges' cerebral mythos. The results are ambitious and uneven. In “Winter Guests,” for example, the staff of a resort in the off-season report on the mounting tensions between a single guest and the beautiful female caretaker of a wheelchair-bound and totally bandaged patient. The story is haunting, suspenseful, and intricately detailed. Its philosophy lingers in the realization of its characters; its unanswerable questions rise organically from the setting of the winter seashore and the isolation of the nearly empty hotel. Other stories, however, are less successful and overwhelm the reader with their insistence on mingling Poe’s obsessive stylings with a more contemporary cynicism—or perhaps late-20th-century mass-produced weariness—reminiscent of Beckett or Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud. These influences make for an uneasy pairing, one whose tremendous potential is sometimes buried beneath a miasmic stylistic expression.

An intriguing, if uneven, debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-6287-287-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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