Introspective and rich with personal revelation.

In her debut memoir, Mayfield (co-author: Ellie Hart Goes to Work, 2005, etc.) mines her 1960s rural Kentucky childhood as the daughter of a charismatic, alcoholic father who earned his living as an undertaker.

"The first time I touched a dead person," writes the author, "I was too short to reach into the casket." Her father lifted her up so she could get closer to the lifeless body, an experience she recalls as a "thrilling...unthinkable act." This dark and sharply detailed memoir follows the activities that took place in the author's Jubilee, Kentucky, girlhood home, which also served as the Mayfield and Son Funeral Home. There, she and her family members were cast as "the ghosts of the house," even as dead bodies came and went. She learned when to be quiet, out of respect for the deceased, and the rituals involved in preparing a corpse for burial. She was also preoccupied with obsessive thoughts about what objects the dead were buried with until, at last, she concluded that the most significant thing they possessed were their secrets. To that end, Mayfield offers up the long-held unspoken truths about her own family. This includes the darker side of her father, who served as his daughter's protector and hero while simultaneously battling his own demons of alcohol and infidelity. The author also explores the underbelly of their small, segregated town, which included suicide and violence and the ensuing familial feuds and grieving. Eventually, as she entered adolescence, Mayfield turned away from idolizing her father. Instead of adhering to the same parameters she had always followed, she longed to be free from the stifling world of the dead in order to live her own life—in this case, in London, where she lives with her British husband.

Introspective and rich with personal revelation.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1476757285

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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