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A sensitive chronicle of a biographer’s search for truth.

An intimate look at the life and loves of Carson McCullers (1917-1967).

“To tell another person’s story,” Shapland observes in her deft, graceful literary debut, “a writer must make that person some version of herself, must find a way to inhabit her.” The author knew little about McCullers before she became an intern at the Harry Ransom Center, a repository for writers’ and artists’ archives at the University of Texas. Responding to a scholar’s request, she discovered eight letters from Swiss writer and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach to McCullers that struck Shapland immediately as “intimate, suggestive” love letters. For Shapland, at the time suffering the end of a “major, slow-burning catastrophe,” the letters marked a “turning point.” Within a week, she cut her hair short. “Within a year,” she writes, “I would be more or less comfortably calling myself a lesbian for the first time.” The letters inspired further research, focused especially on McCullers’ sexuality, about which Shapland found intriguing evidence in transcripts of her taped therapy sessions with Dr. Mary Mercer, begun when McCullers was 41 and which McCullers described “as an attempt of writing her autobiography.” In addition, following the sessions, McCullers wrote letters to Mercer “awash in the joy of self-revelation” and her “love for Dr. Mary.” The more Shapland discovered about McCullers, the more convinced she became that McCullers was a lesbian who had been intensely in love with several women. Identifying with McCullers “as a writer, as a queer person, as a chronically ill person,” Shapland felt she had special insight into her subject’s life. At the same time, looking to McCullers “as a role model,” she wondered if she was “reading into her queerness”: imposing her own life story, and her own needs, on McCullers, in part to rescue her from “retroactive closeting by peers and biographers.” Shapland interweaves candid self-questioning and revealing personal stories with a nuanced portrait of a writer who confessed her loves were “untouchable” and her feelings “inarticulable.”

A sensitive chronicle of a biographer’s search for truth.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947793-28-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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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

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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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