A slow, sweet homage to two Midwestern towns.

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Listening to the Jar Flies

A collection of memories and narrative vignettes that chronicles the vibrant people who populated rural Wheaton and Rocky Comfort, Missouri, between 1907 and 1960.

Lewis paints, in alternating broad and fine strokes, a picture of a small segment of the rural United States through difficult and prosperous eras. He has an eye for satisfying detail, and he thoroughly catalogs a colorful cast of characters (a bevy of endnotes that reference hundreds of local news articles, periodicals, and more). The author uses memoir and journalistic reporting to show how his personal history maps onto his neighbors’ in two towns where there were no true strangers. The titular jar flies are said to sound like “a bad bass fiddle player sawing a grating note,” a constant buzzing presence that nearly suggests itself as the rural drama’s Greek chorus. Some of the most rewarding sections of the book explain the inner workings of Wheaton and Rocky Comfort’s agrarian systems, including the processes of supply bartering and community support for the infirm or downtrodden. At one point, Lewis fondly remembers a man named Mack Harader who’d given him a ride in his truck as a boy, and who was supported in financial and moral ways by his neighbors after a paralyzing stroke left him nearly immobile. Plenty of action abounds in stories about a grizzled cowboy, a fighter pilot, and other archetypically unyielding and tough players. The sheer volume of people tends at times to dilute the book’s sense of singular storyline. Instead, this set of tales should be enjoyed with the same patience and deliberation that one might have when listening to the flowing oral histories of family members on a back porch. Like such stories, this collection is meandering at times but rich in visual detail and warm language. While not a strictly journalistic endeavor, this book will still provide readers with a comprehensive look at this rural region’s history.

A slow, sweet homage to two Midwestern towns. 

Pub Date: June 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6664-4

Page Count: 458

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2015

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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