THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY

THE ECCENTRIC STORY OF ``JOE'' CARSTAIRS, FASTEST WOMAN ON WATER

In this superbly written biography, Summerscale brings to life the extraordinary and eccentric “Joe— Carstairs. A London Times bestseller and already nominated for the Whitbread Biography of the Year Prize, this volume takes empathetic hold of an enterprising, cross-dressing woman bent on devouring the world whole. Marion “Joe” Carstairs was heiress to the Standard Oil fortune and clearly predestined to eccentricity. Her childhood was emotionally arid. Her mother early succumbed to men, drink, and drugs. Marion was by nature a provocateur and lived to challenge the sexual morals of her day. By the 1920s she had seen the battlefield and the barroom, found her identity as a heavy-smoking, tattooed lesbian, distinguished herself as a record-breaking speedboat racer, and become the self-fashioned ruler of Whale Cay, a small Bahamian island she purchased with her considerable personal fortune. Any one of these might have made her unique; the combination made her positively fascinating. In a life “powered by her money, Joe lifted herself clear of censure by dint of nerve and speed.— She lived and loved relentlessly, visibly, and famously. (The Windsors, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich were but a few of her cohorts.) But somewhere within was a heart the beat only for Lord Tod Wadley, a leather-faced, Steiff doll of a man to whom she was unendingly devoted. Their personalities were bizarrely entwined. Ultimately, Carstairs’s lust for privacy, and for control, was so great that it threatened to consume her. The dazzling and enigmatic life she led soon faded from view. Not until Summerscale, obituaries editor of the Daily Telegraph at the time of Carstairs’s death in 1993, set out to research anomalies in the sketchy details of her life did it all come back. Stylistically restrained and well paced, this unforgettable tale of one woman’s raw hunger for immortality needed no more than this eloquent telling to lift clear off the page. Captivating fun. (44 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88018-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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