DISTANCE AND DIRECTION

ESSAYS

“Some books are better than others,” she declares. This is one of the former.

Thirty-two essays on the subjects of time and place—some somewhat discursive, others lyrical, all as brief as a sigh.

Kitchen (In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal, with Mary Paumier Jones, 1999) is interested in the past, particularly in how the present conveys us there. These lovely pieces flow like reveries (as, indeed, quite a few of them are) and reveal in virtually every case Kitchen’s capacious heart. Like thoughts, the essays do not always end where they began and often establish surprising connections and uncover buried treasure. She’s fond of brief images—e.g., “The food is vintage 1955. Campbell’s soup. Hot cheese. My grandmother’s sturdy black shoes. Her apron.” Readers must connect the dots and, having done so, find themselves in possession of a photograph of an era. She loves, as well, the paradox: she describes herons that have a purpose in their purposelessness; things unsaid are nonetheless articulated. As she states in her preface, some of the pieces are experiments. She plays with viewpoint—uses the first person to achieve immediacy, the second to draw us in, the third to step back, most effectively in the segment that deals with the death of her father. “She never saw his body,” writes Kitchen of herself and her father. Scattered throughout, as well, are six brief segments with colors for titles. She begins with blue, moves to black (appropriately, in the section immediately after her father’s death), ends with red. Some of these are wonderful—poems hide in paragraphs; others seem forced. A number of landscapes appear throughout: the Pacific Northwest (featuring a dead-on description of the eastbound Columbia River Highway as it leaves the river’s demesne), Brazil (which she visited in 1971), Ireland. She reveals failings (she cannot paint, and when she dances, “The body gets in the way”) and describes painful moments (working with survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing).

“Some books are better than others,” she declares. This is one of the former.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-56689-121-3

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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