A relatable, tenderly observed account of the “sacred joy” of tending to the dying.

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MEMORIES IN DRAGONFLIES

SIMPLE LESSONS FOR MINDFUL DYING

A portrait of the author’s late mother that focuses mainly on her decline in her final days.

Debut author Bloom’s mom suffered from a persistent cough, which was diagnosed as being caused by pulmonary fibrosis—a disorder in which the lungs fill with scar tissue. Four years later, at the age of 67, she was struggling with her memory and motor functions, so Bloom, a registered nurse, quit her job to be involved in her daily care. As her mother’s condition worsens, the narrative slows to address one month per chapter, then decelerates further, dividing months among several chapters. This structure gracefully mirrors how a waning life slows down, forcing one to focus on small details. Bloom notes how gifts, such as a pedicure or eyeglass frames that hid a cannula, meant a lot to her mother and how using a cherry-red wheelchair and decorating a den like a Native American sweat lodge softened the sadness of immobility. The book also elegantly explores the past, showing how one memory transports the author into a related, older one. For instance, when Bloom’s mother is confined to a hospital bed, it takes the author back to her own six weeks of bed rest during high school—which were only made tolerable by her mother’s love. Bloom recognizes that her mother always “tried to teach me to pause” by arranging a beach trip to see a grunion run, for example, or finding time for a cup of tea with friends. The book’s key message is that one should slow down and appreciate each remaining day. There’s an effective recurring metaphor of a bridge as a crossing into death, and she tells of using dragonflies as a reminder to let go of anger. It’s unfortunate, though, that there are so many clichés in such a short volume: “running on empty,” pots boiling over, “the elephant in the room,” and so on. That said, most chapters do offer pithy, useful pieces of advice.

A relatable, tenderly observed account of the “sacred joy” of tending to the dying.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-469-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2018

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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