A deceptively spare life story that sneaks up and surprises you with its sudden fecundity and power.

A young women’s grief-stricken meditation on the loss of her beloved father illuminates a lifelong battle with crippling bipolar disorder and depression.

In her debut memoir, Vanasco (English/Towson Univ.), whose writing has appeared in the Believer, the Times Literary Supplement, and other journals, digs deep into the kind of obsessional thinking that proves to be every bit as constricting as it is impenetrable. Within its sad confines, however, there also exists rich, fertile lands filled with the possibility of lifesaving self-discovery, which she explores in unadorned, sparse prose that builds in power as it accumulates. She recalls mostly fond memories of her father: “I taped photographs from my childhood along the silver rails of the bed: my dad reading a book to me despite the white patch over his eye; my dad pulling me in a wooden sled; my dad clutching me on his lap and looking off somewhere as if he knew this was coming.” What loomed ahead for the author was a terribly long and lonely struggle beginning, at age 18, to come to terms with her father’s death—and to find meaning in the short life of a mysterious Jeanne, her half sister from her father’s previous marriage. Jeanne, who was killed in an automobile accident as a teenager, has cast a long shadow over Vanasco’s psyche, infecting her sense of self while also promising to bring her closer to her father. The author’s relentless introspection, which includes almost offhanded recollections of terrible self-harm and institutionalization, manages to cast a spotlight on the art of memoir itself, as she valiantly struggles to find the best medium possible to convey the true essence of a daughter’s love for her father.

A deceptively spare life story that sneaks up and surprises you with its sudden fecundity and power.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-77-5

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017


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

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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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