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TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

MAD PILGRIMAGE OF THE FLESH

There is only one word for this biography: superb.

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014


  • National Book Critics Circle Winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

The tormented life of a celebrated American playwright.

When The Glass Menagerie debuted on Broadway in 1945, the opening-night audience erupted in thunderous applause. After 24 curtain calls, shouts of “Author, Author!” brought a “startled, bewildered, terrified, and excited” Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) to the stage. At 34, after a decade of failed productions, he had achieved the success for which he had been desperately striving. Arthur Miller called the play “a revolution” in theater; Carson McCullers saw in it the beginning of “a renaissance.” But praise could never quash the demons that haunted Williams throughout his life. In this majestic biography, former longtime New Yorker drama critic Lahr (Honky-Tonk Parade: New Yorker Profiles of Show People, 2005, etc.) delineates the fears, paranoia and wrenching self-doubt that Williams transformed into his art. “I have lived intimately with the outcast and derelict and the desperate,” Williams said. “I have tried to make a record of their lives because my own has fitted me to do so.” In stories, poems and such plays as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Williams drew upon his stultifying childhood; his anguish over his sister’s mental illness; and his promiscuity and failed love affairs. Addicted to alcohol and a pharmacopeia of narcotics, Williams at one point sought help from a psychoanalyst; however, when the treatment forbade him to write, he fled. His self-worth, Lahr concludes, “was bound up entirely in his work” and consequently in how directors, actors and especially critics responded to what he produced. Feeling “bullied and intimidated” by others’ expectations, he projected onto them (director Elia Kazan, most notably, or his long-suffering agent Audrey Wood) “his own moral failure and turned it into a kind of legend of betrayal.” Lahr knows his subject intimately and portrays him with cleareyed compassion. Drawing on vast archival sources and unpublished manuscripts, as well as interviews, memoirs and theater history, he fashions a sweeping, riveting narrative.

There is only one word for this biography: superb.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-02124-0

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

NIGHT

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

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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