The author’s sociocultural agenda distorts a deeper understanding of the artist’s oeuvre.

HENRY DARGER, THROW-AWAY BOY

THE TRAGIC LIFE OF AN OUTSIDER ARTIST

Queer culture historian Elledge (Professional Writing Program/Kennesaw St. Univ.; H: Poems, 2012, etc.) provides a startling new perspective on a famous outsider artist.

A reclusive dishwasher who spent his spare time writing sprawling novels and illustrating them with vivid drawings and collages, Henry Darger (1892–1973) has inspired equal amounts of praise, derision and horror. His epic work, In the Realms of the Unreal, depicts the adventures of the Vivian Girls, a group of child warriors who retaliates against the barbaric generals who torture, rape and kill innocent children. The graphic nature of the illustrations, along with the fact that the girls often appear naked and have male genitalia, has alternately fascinated and repulsed viewers. Some historians have accused Darger of pedophilia, and others have even suggested that his obsession with the disappearance and murder of a local girl indicate that he may have killed her (her murder was never solved). Elledge takes umbrage at these accusations and makes a case for Darger as a man who had himself been the victim of sexual abuse, both in the seedy Chicago neighborhood where he grew up and in the various institutions where he lived as an adolescent after his alcoholic father abandoned him. Elledge also claims that Darger’s decadeslong relationship with William Schloeder was a romantic one, citing Darger’s own oblique journal entries as well as research on gay culture in Chicago during the early 20th century. While Elledge has clearly conducted an impressive amount of research on Darger’s milieu, the artist’s own unwillingness to specify what actually happened to him during his years of institutionalization make the author’s assertions speculative at best. He also fails to place Darger within the context of other 20th-century self-taught artists until the last few pages of the book, and he barely covers Darger’s striking use of color and composition.

The author’s sociocultural agenda distorts a deeper understanding of the artist’s oeuvre.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59020-855-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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