A bleak, affecting portrait of an unhappy family.

OF ROOTS AND WINGS

A memoir of abuse and recovery that’s not for the faint of heart.

When Swope, one of eight children born to an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother, was 23 months old, she and her siblings were removed from their parents’ care and sent to a Catholic orphanage. Because of the range in ages, the siblings were largely kept in different divisions. At the orphanage, Swope was sexually abused by the mother superior and frequently berated for her behavior. At 4, she and her younger sister, who didn’t speak, were adopted by a wealthy family. There, Swope was molested by the groundskeeper and, separately, by his wife, as well as, it’s implied, Swope’s adoptive father, a physician who brings the children to watch him perform autopsies and allows them to drink beer, which he prefers they drink instead of Coke. The abuse continues throughout her life, leading Swope to experience frequent flashbacks as an adult, although she eventually starts therapy and seems, by the end of the memoir, to have established a stable family life for herself. Lurid details abound, but the most disturbing aspects are the disaffected narrative tone and the fact that not much is made out of the frequent psychological torment that parallels the physical and sexual abuse. For example, after she’s caught masturbating and soiling herself in the orphanage, the mother superior forces Swope to wear red socks to differentiate her from the other children, since Swope is “a creature from the devil.” The other children were told to ignore her; a girl was beaten after she helped Swope when she tripped and fell. “Thus I learned that Mother superior [sic] proved to be inferior,” Swope writes in a neat summation that doesn’t seem to be nearly a strong enough indictment against a woman who also sexually abused the young girl. There’s little explanation of Swope’s methodology. Based on the somewhat unrealistic dialogue (“Someone’s been messing with her” doesn’t sound like a medical professional’s assessment of a child who’s been molested) and the fact that the memoir begins when Swope was not quite 2 years old, readers might wonder what, beyond memories, Swope used as source material. Did she keep a journal growing up? Did she gain access to her own records and medical files? Greater insight would help illuminate the frustratingly opaque sections.

A bleak, affecting portrait of an unhappy family.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475154658

Page Count: 434

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2012

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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