Wynette’s tortured history is forcefully told, but her essence remains a mystery.

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TAMMY WYNETTE

TRAGIC COUNTRY QUEEN

The gory details of the country vocalist’s life.

McDonough (Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film, 2005, etc.), who wrote the bestselling Neil Young biography Shakey (2002), takes on the big-voiced, troubled thrush who logged 20 No. 1 country hits between 1967 and 1976. Born Virginia Wynette Pugh (1942–1998) and raised humbly in rural Red Bay, Ala., she was a headstrong, willful girl who broke out of the honky-tonks and regional radio to notch her first big singles, including the controversial, politically divisive anthem “Stand By Your Man,” under the tutelage of Nashville producer Billy Sherrill. (Music City’s studio milieu and Sherrill’s key role in it are chronicled in a richly detailed early chapter.) Wynette lived through five harrowing marriages, tormented relationships with four children, a multitude of health problems, two debilitating decades of addiction to painkillers and a bizarre, unsolved (and possibly trumped-up) kidnapping. McDonough is clearly smitten with his talented subject—he rhapsodizes over her recordings and pens several cringe-inducing “Dear Tammy” letters—but Wynette remains something of a cipher; one never senses that much existed below the surface besides an abiding neediness. Two of her husbands emerge as the book’s most compelling figures. George Jones, the alcoholic, unpredictable singer who was Wynette’s musical role model and third spouse, is depicted as a deeply flawed yet loving professional and romantic partner. Producer-songwriter George Richey, her fifth husband and Wynette’s manager for 20 years, is painted as a greedy, controlling hillbilly Machiavelli who hastened Wynette’s premature demise in 1998 through a combination of overwork and (illegal) overmedication. McDonough interviewed all but a few of the principals in the story—including the normally reticent Jones—and he gets some wonderful material from peers like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. However, readers may remain uncertain about what animated Wynette’s powerfully performed music.

Wynette’s tortured history is forcefully told, but her essence remains a mystery.

Pub Date: March 4, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02153-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2009

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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

NIGHT

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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