One melancholy baby, with every right to be so. (Photos)

The story of the author’s life as stepdaughter to the blacklisted screen and television writer Ring Lardner Jr., with a subcurrent of foggy but appalled unhappiness.

A disembodied narrative voice gives this memoir’s first third a hazy, uninflected tone. “What I remember most about Coldwater Canyon is an old wooden gate falling on my head,” Lardner writes. “I don't know how this happened.” As a tool for the scattershot memories of youth, this dreaminess is effective. The dreams take on more edge and gloom after Ring Jr.—referred to throughout as her father by the author, who was three when he married his brother David’s widow—is convicted of contempt of Congress for replying, when asked if he is a member of the communist party, “I could answer, but I’d hate myself in the morning.” The middle section, comprised largely of letters, clippings, and addenda from Ring Jr., covers his prison years. It highlights the mundanity of getting by during his year in Danbury Prison, when his sense that communism extended beyond economic equality into cultural and political spheres only sharpened, and the thrill when her mother found work on TV or radio. (Frances Chaney was also a communist and suffered from the blacklist.) Finally come the consequences for the author of those early years: her mother's distancing (“Acting was my higher power, baby. That's the only place that I knew about God”), her father's drinking (a five-page letter to him from Dalton Trumbo spells it out in spades), both parents’ relentless chiding of Kate about her weight (father called her “Potato Dumpling,” while mother preferred “Miss Turnip”), and the general family reticence. Little wonder Lardner turned to drugs, which perhaps induced the haziness that returns in the memoir’s third section, chronicling what should have been the good times: college, marriage(s), children. Happily, therapy worked for her, and she can tender a clean and sweet chronicle of her father’s death.

One melancholy baby, with every right to be so. (Photos)

Pub Date: May 11, 2004

ISBN: 0-345-45514-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004



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




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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