Perceptive and empathetic, but also gently unsparing—a superbly nuanced portrait.

WENDY AND THE LOST BOYS

THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF WENDY WASSERSTEIN

From veteran nonfiction author Salamon (Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God and Diversity on Steroids, 2008, etc.), the authorized biography of the playwright who brought the dreams and disappointments of her generation of women to the American stage.

Though she was the first female playwright to win a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize (for The Heidi Chronicles in 1989), Wendy Wasserstein (1950–2006) never entirely escaped the judgment of her overbearing mother Lola, whose comment about the Pulitzer was, “I’d be just as happy if she’d marry a lawyer.” That wasn’t going to happen: Wasserstein’s most intimate relationships were with gay men such as playwrights Christopher Durang and Terrence McNally, nonprofit theatrical impresario André Bishop and costume designer William Ivey Long. She jokingly referred to them as her “husbands” and enlisted McNally and Long in her attempts to conceive a child, but it was characteristic of Wasserstein’s seemingly open but profoundly private nature that when she did finally give birth to daughter Lucy in 1999, no one knew precisely how she had arranged it. She was similarly secretive about the leukemia that killed her at age 55. Her conflicts and contradictions were as extraordinary as she was, yet plays like Uncommon Women and Others, Isn’t It Romantic, The Sisters Rosensweig, and most of all The Heidi Chronicles voiced the experiences of her peers, women who expected to have careers as well as families and painfully discovered that having it all wasn’t going to be easy—or maybe even possible. Salamon does a capable job of covering Wasserstein’s professional life, including her grad-student days among the legendary mid-’70s Yale Drama crowd that also featured Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. The author’s  real interest, however—and where the book excels—is in elucidating Wasserstein’s complex personality and the creative, unconventional life she fashioned for herself, balancing fraught but committed family ties with a busy social life teeming with devoted friends who in the end shared drama critic Frank Rich’s assessment that they “had somehow failed to see Wendy whole.” That was, Salamon suggests, because she didn’t want them to.

Perceptive and empathetic, but also gently unsparing—a superbly nuanced portrait.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59420-298-8

Page Count: -

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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