Is this "collage" of Vonnegut's occasional writings "a very great book by an American genius" (as he declares in a pretty hilarious mock-preface)? Or is it—as he goes on to suggest—a "blivit" (i.e. "two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag")? Well, it's neither, of course, and both fans and non-fans will find the Vonnegut they love or hate here. Starting out with a good strong polemic against censorship, he moves along to a moderately interesting family history—written mostly by his Uncle John, but spiced with highly Vonnegutian asides (about his grandfather: "This Albert Lieber, whose emotional faithlessness to his children destroyed the mind of my mother, along with prescribed barbiturates and alcohol, was a rich man's son"). Then come some college memories, a half-parodied "self-interview" for The Paris Review, and tributes to friends: William F. Buckley, Jr. ("I would give a million dollars to look like that"), Joseph Heller (a review of Something Happened), Irwin Shaw, Bob and Ray. And so it goes—with somewhat decreasing coherence—as Vonnegut includes Some commencement addresses; bits about his wives and children; essays on Twain, Swift, and CÉline; favorite songs (C&W tunes by the Statler Brothers); the introduction to a 1976 edition of Slaughterhouse Five (re Dresden—"One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in"). Plus—at his very worst—a sophomoric sf story ("The Big Space Fuck") and an even more sophomoric, campy musical version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Throughout, a few themes are repeated a lot—his freethinker beliefs, the need for extended families, the literary-academic world's phoniness—and there are one-liners and aphorisms galore. So, though Vonnegut is just about right in giving himself a "C" for this book overall (Cat 's Cradle gets A+), it's quintessential KV—wildly sentimental but hard and funny on the surface—and sure to please his fans while offering sporadic items of interest to others.

Pub Date: March 1, 1981

ISBN: 0385334265

Page Count: 341

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1981

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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


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...


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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