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

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. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015



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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