Self-absorbed and tortuous.



Can an American-born Englishman with blond hair go to Spain and find fulfillment as a flamenco guitar player?

That’s one of the questions posed by debut author Webster, and the predictable answer is that it may take immersion in a “flamenco lifestyle” that includes the assimilation of some Andalusian gypsy lingo, philosophy, mannerisms, and, perforce, months of association with the likes of car thieves and drug dealers. For good (or ill) measure, throw in a hit-and-run affair with an older woman, wife of the man who is charitable enough to employ you, thus funding your guitar lessons. There is no clock running in this hazy memoir, but it seems that in an amazingly short time Webster becomes proficient enough to sit in as an accompanist with a loose troupe of flamenco singers and dancers who are, by his own sad estimation, “good enough to play for tourists.” He exists nightly in the lower realm of this company, since creeping paranoia (perhaps enhanced by cocaine) convinces him that his blond locks make him an unwitting tourist attraction within a tourist attraction. One wonders, at least briefly, how this could happen to someone so inspired by the concept of duende, the elusive, transitory, sometimes orgasmic state that occurs when flamenco performers get grooved and surpass themselves. To his credit, Webster eventually discovers that duende can sometimes happen offstage, in a glance or an expression or the barrel of a gun, as well as in the ear of the beholder, and he finally reasons that without 20 years of practice and the genius he lacks he won’t be able to produce it on a flamenco guitar. But, perhaps . . . as a storyteller? Bad news there, too: Webster’s readers may find that they share the fate of a local gypsy whose tattoo proclaims: “Born to suffer.”

Self-absorbed and tortuous.

Pub Date: March 11, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-1166-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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