A funny, affecting, but ultimately overlong remembrance of struggle and growth.

A Lullaby of Flies

In this debut memoir, Presa reflects on a life that included bulimia, homelessness, military service, motherhood, and complicated love.

The author says she struggled with her weight from a young age and developed crippling social anxiety that kept her from forging friendships. When she discovered bulimia at age 14, it seemed like an answer to her problems: she could continue to find solace in food, she thought, but avoid the weight that caused her to be ostracized. However, the sickness would become a lasting problem in her life, further complicated by the suicide of her mother when she was 15. After the author fled her deteriorating family, her life became a gritty procession of nights in tents, cars, and even caves. The cold and discomfort were still preferable, she says, to staying at her father’s house with her antagonistic stepmother. She impulsively decided to join the Air Force at age 19 after news footage from Hurricane Katrina convinced her to take a more active role in society. At 21, she married a man in the Air Force stationed in South Korea whom she’d known for four months “and had seen in person only a handful of times” and later had a child with him. In the Air Force, she found structure, friendship, and self-esteem, but she still made plenty of mistakes in life. Hurtling from one tenuous situation to the next, she had to discover the strength to save her own life. Overall, Presa is a talented writer, and with her punchy, maximalist prose style, she engulfs the reader in a sea of sharp observations and sardonic humor. For example, she begins her chapter about her Air Force basic-training experience with the line, “Nestled amongst the sobs and moans of misery of others, I smiled.” Unfortunately, though, this same maximalism extends to the excessive length of the memoir; at 588 pages, it’s twice as long as it should have been. Greater concision and more selectivity when choosing among her memories might have made for a better-paced and ultimately more compelling read.

A funny, affecting, but ultimately overlong remembrance of struggle and growth.

Pub Date: April 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5327-4189-0

Page Count: 620

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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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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