THE VIRGIN OF BENNINGTON

There just isn’t anything unusual enough about the author’s experiences and perceptions to make this more than a...

Poet and nonfiction author Norris (The Cloister Walk, 1996, etc.) focuses in this autobiography on her years at Bennington College in the mid-1960s and a subsequent period of maturation in New York City.

Notorious for its atmosphere of sexual promiscuity, drugs, and bohemian liberalism, Bennington seemed a bad fit for a shy girl from Honolulu whose most cherished entertainments consisted of reading and singing in the church choir. Dubbed by her college mates “the Virgin of Bennington,” Norris spent four years in self-imposed isolation, composing verse largely out of a need for “protective coloration” in a world that seemed to have little place for her. Poetry was a defense mechanism against the intrusion of coarse reality, claims Norris, who had her first sexual experience with another girl and later became the lover of a married professor. Moving to New York after graduation, she took a job at the Academy of American Poets, performing menial secretarial tasks but benefiting from the opportunity to attend poetry readings and meet stars of the literary demimonde. Persistently describing herself as too bashful to venture out to a Manhattan grocery store, in the same breath the author portrays all-night binges in the bars and poets’ lofts she frequented, sometimes to the detriment of her daytime responsibilities. More interesting than her panorama of New York’s unbridled bohemian lifestyle is Norris’s tribute to mentor and friend Betty Kray, executive director of the AAP. Committed to helping struggling writers through grants and awards, Kray nourished many native talents while also promoting foreign celebrities. Convinced of Kray’s decisive role in her own creative development, Norris mulls over their friendship and Betty’s selfless devotion to the verbal art.

There just isn’t anything unusual enough about the author’s experiences and perceptions to make this more than a near-stereotypical tale of a provincial American emerging from a sheltered, small-town environment to confront the dangers and temptations of a big metropolis.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57322-179-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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