Framed by narrator Jim Jackson’s high school reunion in the middle-class Southern town of Princeton, W.Va., George’s novel...

REUNION

A 60-year-old man comes to terms with growing up with an alcoholic father in George’s debut novel.

Framed by narrator Jim Jackson’s high school reunion in the middle-class Southern town of Princeton, W.Va., George’s novel spends the bulk of its pages on Jim’s memories of his rather conventional teenage pastimes: ham radio, dances, assisting the school’s venerated football team. In 11th grade, Jim gets a thrilling gig as a Sunday morning radio announcer at the local station and has fun as quasi-roadie to his friends’ rock ’n’ roll band. These ’50s scenes of suburban sock hops and polite teenagers are pleasant to read, but it’s hard to tell if they could possibly have been as bland and unthreatening as George depicts. The worst thing any teen ever does is flirt with someone else’s girlfriend, and despite some discussion of segregation and racism, everyone presented directly is nice as nice can be. Into this narrative of old-fashioned civility thrusts, again and again, the specter of Jim’s alcoholic father, who appears at the end of every chapter or so, coming home drunk from the Elks Club, sometimes vomiting on the front porch. George puts some emotional force into these scenes, but their impact on Jim is only telegraphed. We never get to feel young Jim’s emotions, or even really see them, which greatly lessens the novel’s power. In later sections, the narrator comes right out and tells us that his father’s alcoholism has stunted his own development as a husband and father, but he does so in clinical language: “My inability to engage was a serious flaw”; “Looking back, we were trapped in a web of dysfunctionality.” We abruptly learn that the narrator now has a “sullen” 11-year-old son with “hard blue eyes,” with whom he has a “brittle and unfeeling” relationship, but no history of the relationship is given that could provide insight or invite the reader’s empathy. Still, final chapters on the physical declines and deaths of both Jim’s mother and mother-in-law are moving. And by the end of the book, George conveys Jim’s frustration with his own emotional frigidity and failings as a husband and father in a way that finally edges into raw feeling.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468529678

Page Count: 312

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2012

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A refreshingly candid, fearless look into a model’s body of work and its impact on her identity and politics.

MY BODY

The international model embarks on a nuanced investigation of her body and identity.

Ratajkowski’s exploration of fame, self-identity, and what it means to be a “beautiful” woman is surprisingly engaging. Originally thrust into the spotlight in 2013 due to her scantily clad appearance in the music video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the author eventually became known for her stances about beauty and sexuality and how they are commodified. Now that she is a wife and mother, she writes, “I feel a tenderness toward my younger self. My defensiveness and defiance are palpable to me now. What I wrote and preached then reflected what I believed at the time, but it missed a much more complicated picture. In many ways, I have been undeniably rewarded by capitalizing on my sexuality….But in other, less overt ways, I’ve felt objectified and limited by my position in the world as a so-called sex symbol.” This short book includes the juicy tidbits that avid celebrity-memoir readers seek, and the author shares how she really felt about the video shoot and how the aftermath affected her. Beyond that, the book is a reflective coming-of-age-in-the-industry tale, a story that is never maudlin but contains a few thick, murky sections. Ratajkowski attempts to break down the construction of her identity and sexuality in relation to the ever present male gaze as well as her relationships with the women in her life. The charm of this book lies in the author’s largely relatable writing, which shows the complex emotions and confusion of a young woman experiencing her sexual development and maturation into a capable adult. Admitting that the “purpose of the book is not to arrive at answers, but honestly to explore ideas I can’t help but return to,” Ratajkowski grapples directly with a host of thorny issues.

A refreshingly candid, fearless look into a model’s body of work and its impact on her identity and politics.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-81786-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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