A well-balanced panoply of family-centric musings from authors conflicted between responsibility and retribution.




A chorus of noteworthy memoirists reflects on the ethical consequences of airing dirty laundry.

“With family stories, the stakes are always high,” writes Castro (English and Ethnic Studies/Univ. of Nebraska; Island of Bones, 2012, etc.), who published her harrowing experiences as the abused child of fundamentalist parents. Naturally, she has firsthand knowledge of the memoirist’s internal struggle: a personal obligation to convey an honest narrative while straddling the thin line between authenticity and oversharing. This conundrum of writing within the “self-disclosing genre of our reality-hungry era” is pondered throughout 25 reflective essays from a wide-ranging group of writers. The four-part collection opens with essays personifying the ethical boundaries authors like emergency room physician Paul Austin must skirt when divulging a life working in a high-pressure environment while raising a disabled child. Novelist Paul Lisicky discusses the fragile “line between life and art” after his published remembrances became surprisingly offensive to his aunt, a reaction similar to that of gay memoirist Rigoberto González’s grandparents to his poignant, revelatory autobiography. Wrestling with artistic integrity, despite the pain caused to others, is also a theme running through the collection, along with the expected preponderance of the matriarchal mother figure. Several authors who share their experiences are also creative writing instructors, and they offer advice on crafting an effective, epiphanic memoir. All of the entries deserve attention, though some are disappointingly brief, while others excessively agonize over unresolved emotional baggage. “Such is the calamity of authorship and authenticity in revealing secrets,” writes Allison Hedge Coke of her process in exorcising personal demons onto the printed page. Other contributors include Ariel Gore, Alison Bechdel and Dinty W. Moore.

A well-balanced panoply of family-centric musings from authors conflicted between responsibility and retribution.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8032-4692-8

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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 miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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