BROTHERS AND KEEPERS

A MEMOIR

Since 1975, when his younger brother Robby was arrested (and later jailed) for armed robbery and murder, professor/novelist Wideman (Hurry Home, The Lynchers) has been wrestling with this situation—as a family tragedy, as a sociological puzzle, as a personal torment, as material for his fiction.

Here, then, after long prison-visit talks with Robby, Wideman tries to put it all together—in a dense, restless, tortured mosaic that only occasionally adds illumination to the central knot of anguish. An opening section moves from memories of the 1975 nightmare (a brief visit from fugitive Robby before the arrest) to musings on the brotherly bond, lyrical/earthy vignettes from Pittsburgh family-history, Wideman's guilt over rejecting his black background ("Fear marched along beside guilt"), and an evocation of a visit to Robby in prison. Then, after a strong close-up of Wideman's mother, embittered and "radicalized" by her son's fate, Robby's own recollections take over: childhood jealousy of his successful older siblings, staking out his own territory ("I had to be a rebel"), and becoming a street-smart hood—especially after getting hooked on drugs. ("One day you the King. Next day dope got you and it's the King.") Unfortunately, however, Bobby's confessions—a long, naturalistic drone of shooting up, dealing, stealing—aren't distinctive or revealing enough to deepen the drama here or to help explain the basic mystery: why is one brother a professor in Wyoming, the other in for life at a Pennsylvania penitentiary? And Wideman's own broodings, though sometimes eloquent as they rub salt into the wound, end up pretty much where they begin—despite shifting voices, poetic flights, and verbose, repetitious wrestlings along the way. ("We can't get any further. It's a familiar place. A treacherous convergence of selfishness and caring for another and ego and wanting to be bigger, better than you are and valuing the truth and profiting from untruth and wishing for the best and dreading the worst; a welter of conflicting emotions, a nexus of irresolution and despair, of self-pity and self-disgust, desire and guilt.")

A frustrating book, then—with a powerful initial grab, some of the virtues of fiction (texture and emotion), but only sporadic flickers of drama and insight amid the narrative convolutions.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 1984

ISBN: 0618509631

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1984

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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