An incomparable personal story exquisitely, stunningly told.



Novelist Alison (Creative Writing/Univ. of Miami; Natives and Exotics, 2005, etc.) presents a mesmerizing memoir about her broken family.

The author was four and her sister Maggy seven in 1965, when their parents, Australian diplomat Edward and teacher Rosemary, had affairs with an American couple, Paul and Helen, who were in Canberra for Paul’s diplomatic post. The Americans had two girls almost the same ages, Patricia and Jenny. Within nine months, the families had realigned, with the fathers trading places. Jane and Maggy got a new father, new surname, new home across the Pacific and antipodal sisters who, in turn, inherited Edward as a father and the author’s beloved Australia as home. In rich, lyrical prose, steeped in classical imagery and vivid similes of the natural world, the author discusses the implications of this shock-inducing split. Along the way she covers her nomadic childhood in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and South America and her precocious adolescence and meandering adulthood. Alison refrains from hiding behind linguistic dexterity, however, laying herself bare by including verbatim passages from her diaries. Rosemary endured a tempestuous marriage with Paul; the American was cold, though pretty, smart, fierce Jane finally earned his love long after Maggy had given up. After seven years of letters and increased fascination with the other family, Jane and Maggy finally saw their birth father, newly posted to New York, and spent time with Helen and her daughters. The encounter launched a long, destructive competition between Jane and her counterpart Jenny (they shared a birthday) for grades, races, boys and, above all, their fathers’ love. The author’s narration of these years painfully explores jealousy, home, memory and “the wretched human economics of desire and desirability.” Playful syntax and meaningful fragments arranged like poles around colons—“The heart of jealousy: knowing you’re dispensable”—pull the reader along in rhythmic, sensual currents of language that sparkle with Alison’s talent for tethering the abstract to physical description.

An incomparable personal story exquisitely, stunningly told.

Pub Date: March 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-15-101280-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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