WOODY ALLEN

A BIOGRAPHY

The biographer of Steven Spielberg (1997) and Stanley Kubrick sets his sights on one of the cinema’s great comic minds. Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg, the filmmaker grew up in wartime Brooklyn, a period and neighborhood to which he returned in such films as Radio Days. Baxter contends that his father’s unstable job situation and the family’s constant shuffling between relatives early in his life left Allen with a long-standing resentment of his parents and his religion. He mines the films for examples, noting for instance that the parents of the characters Allen plays are masked when they appear onscreen. Baxter is not the first person to find Allen’s personal life in his films, a hobby that has grown since scandal enveloped Allen’s personal life when he left longtime partner Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, his current wife. But he suffers more than most biographers from an inability to distinguish the man from the artist. Peering into every one of Allen’s films, he analyzes the repeated use of prostitutes, the references to Judaism, the jokes about therapy. For Baxter, a joke is never just a joke, but a desperate cry for help. When he does move away from a minatory pseudoanalysis, as when he describes Allen’s early career as a comedy writer, his tale is at its most entertaining. Baxter tells of Danny Simon, Neil Simon’s brother, who gave Allen one of his first jobs; of Allen’s partnership with Larry Gelbart, who years later would create M*A*S*H; and of Allen’s break writing for Buddy Hackett’s series, “Stanley.” Such episodes, set during the heady initial days of TV, offer Allen anecdotes new even to diehard fans. Unfortunately, these are among the only chapters that offer anything fresh or unbiased. Most of Baxter’s digging has a desperate, leftover look. Allen’s fans, who are presumably Baxter’s target audience, will prefer to let his films do the talking.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7867-0666-X

Page Count: 512

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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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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One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

THE BEST OF ME

A welcome greatest-hits package from Sedaris.

It’s not easy to pick out fact from fiction in the author’s sidelong takes on family, travel, relationships, and other topics. He tends toward the archly droll in either genre, both well represented in this gathering, always with a perfectly formed crystallization of our various embarrassments and discomforts. An example is a set piece that comes fairly early in the anthology: the achingly funny “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” with its spot-on reminiscence of taking a French class with a disdainful instructor, a roomful of clueless but cheerful students, and Sedaris himself, who mangles the language gloriously, finally coming to understand his teacher’s baleful utterances (“Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section”) without being able to reply in any way that does not destroy the language of Voltaire and Proust. Sedaris’ register ranges from doggerel to deeply soulful, as when he reflects on the death of a beloved sibling and its effects on a family that has been too often portrayed as dysfunctional when it’s really just odd: “The word,” he writes, “is overused….My father hoarding food inside my sister’s vagina would be dysfunctional. His hoarding it beneath the bathroom sink, as he is wont to do, is, at best, quirky and at worst unsanitary.” There’s not a dud in the mix, though Sedaris is always at his best when he’s both making fun of himself and satirizing some larger social trend (of dog-crazy people, for instance: “They’re the ones who, when asked if they have children, are likely to answer, ‘A black Lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe’ ”). It’s a lovely mélange by a modern Mark Twain who is always willing to set himself up as a shlemiel in the interest of a good yarn.

One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-62824-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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