An ambitious but patchy debut, better in parts than as a whole.

I AM SORRY TO THINK I HAVE RAISED A TIMID SON

Generational insecurity locks horns with machismo in this hybrid collection of personal journalism and first-person profiles.

Believer and n+1 essayist Russell is a type of millennial George Plimpton: the nerd conquering his fears by plunging into the unknown. “I have come to fetishize opaque brutes,” writes the author, who proceeds to meet some cautionary examples. He visited the annual Gathering of the Juggalos, the subculture of Insane Clown Posse fans—people who “weren’t born into the respectable middle class and didn’t see a path that led there, so they said fuck it.” Russell spent an even scarier amount of time with Tim Friede, who regularly gets bitten by poisonous snakes as he pursues his long-term goal of developing a “Swiss-army immune system.” Another superhuman, hockey legend John Brophy, explained to Russell how he spent a lifetime cracking heads on the ice without losing his own in the process. The author also took a class in gory special effects makeup with Hollywood’s “Sultan of Splatter” Tom Savini. On a remote Australian isle, he met a former marketing executive–turned–modern-day Robinson Crusoe. In between these and other essays, Russell weaves together his own story, focused mainly on growing up with his loudmouth Vietnam vet father, who was constantly trying to beef up the kid’s testosterone (“He thought it was important that I should greet Death as part of my morning routine”). Russell is an observant, skillful and funny writer who draws out the essence of each person he meets, but the framing device—in which each story becomes another chapter in his own process of self-realization—becomes a wearying shtick. Russell himself, staggering between ironic detachment and overt pathos, ultimately becomes a grating witness to his own life.

An ambitious but patchy debut, better in parts than as a whole.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-35230-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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NUTCRACKER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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