A painfully beckoning memoir of a guy raising his son solo after his wife slips away into madness. Novelist Thorndike (The Potato Baron, 1989, etc.) was a young Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador when he met Clarisa in 1967. She was 19, he 24, and love came easily. Clarisa had gone to school in San Francisco and spoke flawless English. They were footloose, fancy-free, and looking for an alternative lifestyle. They married and moved to a farm in Chile, and Clarisa gave birth to their son, Janir, in 1970. At first, Thorndike admired Clarisa's impetuousness, her contrariness, and her mothering: She couldn't get enough of Janir. Then her slow, cruel slide into schizophrenia began. The closeness between mother and child was replaced by a gathering distance; she would rage at the boy, giving him a sharp pinch for good measure. They returned to El Salvador. There, Clarisa stayed out all night; she demanded a car, then smashed its windshield ``to feel the wind in her face as she drove''; she reeked of dope. Thorndike left for Ohio, with Clarisa's agreement and with Janir. What followed were hard days and nights of fathering alone. Thorndike relates with simplicity and clarity the all-consuming nature of being a single parent, the terrors of child-rearing, the loneliness as he failed to find a mate, the rhythm of the days he spent farming the land and forging a tight intimacy with his son. The love is so palpable, so sugar-free and recognizable, it makes the heart ache. Clarisa continued to materialize for increasingly chaotic and gruesome reunions, until she tendered the 10-year-old Janir a hit of LSD (``Eat this, but don't tell your dad''). She eventually committed suicide, jumping from the fire escape of a shabby hotel. Stormy and pungent, a story that makes you count family blessings, no matter how meager.

Pub Date: May 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-517-70542-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1996

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A highly readable account of how solid research and personal testing of self-help techniques saved a couple's marriage after...


Self-help advice and personal reflections on avoiding spousal fights while raising children.

Before her daughter was born, bestselling author Dunn (Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask, 2009, etc.) enjoyed steady work and a happy marriage. However, once she became a mother, there never seemed to be enough time, sleep, and especially help from her husband. Little irritations became monumental obstacles between them, which led to major battles. Consequently, they turned to expensive couples' therapy to help them regain some peace in life. In a combination of memoir and advice that can be found in most couples' therapy self-help books, Dunn provides an inside look at her own vexing issues and the solutions she and her husband used to prevent them from appearing in divorce court. They struggled with age-old battles fought between men and women—e.g., frequency of sex, who does more housework, who should get up with the child in the middle of the night, why women need to have a clean house, why men need more alone time, and many more. What Dunn learned via therapy, talks with other parents, and research was that there is no perfect solution to the many dynamics that surface once couples become parents. But by using time-tested techniques, she and her husband learned to listen, show empathy, and adjust so that their former status as a happy couple could safely and peacefully morph into a happy family. Readers familiar with Dunn's honest and humorous writing will appreciate the behind-the-scenes look at her own semi-messy family life, and those who need guidance through the rough spots can glean advice while being entertained—all without spending lots of money on couples’ therapy.

A highly readable account of how solid research and personal testing of self-help techniques saved a couple's marriage after the birth of their child.

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-26710-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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