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The still-tender gay identity of his early adulthood is the overarching theme of poet Merrill's memoir of a postwar European sojourn—30 months, beginning in 1950, during which he tried (impossibly) to keep his parents from too full a knowledge of his homosexuality while immersing himself in the high aesthetics common to Italy and to the group of gay expatriate exquisites he surrounded himself with. Using his psychoanalysis with a Roman psychiatrist as the armature, Merrill remembers the gradual enlightenments of the era: the liaisons; the divergence from his straight boyhood friend, the novelist Frederick Buechner; the relatively modest and unsure place that his glittering poetic talent played in Merrill's own inner makeup. How to love and be loved—to be attractive to those who are attractive—takes up much more of his waking thoughts (he once even spurns meeting the great poet Montale because Merrill doesn't care for Montale's looks). Using two lenses—sections of the book are written in a looking-back mode as well as in an as-it-happens, chronicling one—Merrill is pleasingly frank all the time, often funny, never afraid to make himself seem less serious that others think him as being, never defensive about a period of his life, before his art truly took him over, when he could be a butterfly supported by the gentle winds of his family's fortune (his father was, as most everyone knows, a founding partner in the Merrill Lynch brokerage firm). Still, the book never quite satisfies: the prose is too precious and wobbly, the episodes undramatic, the portraiture indefinite. It seems to capture neither time nor place nor man with anything but an approximating diffidence. Readers of Merrill will be naturally curious, but also probably at a bit of a loss. (Four pages of photographs)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-43217-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1993

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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