HALF A LIFE

A bare-bones narrative of a brash girl growing up in Los Angeles in the turbulent 1960s, determined to overcome her father's painful neglect. Novelist Ciment (The Law of Falling Bodies, 1993) looks back on her adolescence without pity and without judgment. She recounts years spent breaking into cars and houses, shoplifting, forging, and cutting school in a dry, deadpan tone that suits L.A.'s desert atmosphere. She, her mother, and her three brothers eke out a precarious living when her mother forces her emotionally and financially stingy father to leave. This bad girl who can barely spell has only one real interest—art. Despite a 30-year age difference, she becomes infatuated with Arnold, her married art teacher. (Curiously, Ciment never comments on the possibility that she may be searching for a father figure.) Seventeen in 1970, and desperate to escape L.A., Ciment scrapes up money to move to New York City. After posing nude at a sleazy ``modeling agency,'' she is overwhelmed by loneliness that sends her reeling back home, where she and Arnold consummate their affair and start living together. She gets into art school on the strength of her portfolio and a friend's willingness to take the SAT for her. Flash forward to 1986: Ciment (now a writer) and Arnold are living in New York when she receives a letter from her father—his first overture in years. The two guardedly reconcile, and she visits him in the hospital. When he dies soon after, she seems to grieve, not for him, but for what might have been, had he been a better father. This flawed but compelling memoir lacks a deeper level of introspection and a fuller sense of the Ciment family, but the author is a triumphantly self-made woman and her book gives us the agony—and intermittent joy—of the process in tough, spare, convincing language. (Author tour)

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-517-70171-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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

INTO THE WILD

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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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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