Claridge’s biography is timely, accompanying a widespread critical reappraisal of Rockwell’s work. Though there will still...

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NORMAN ROCKWELL

A brilliant biography that affords considerable insight into the complicated, worried mind of the masterly illustrator.

Norman Rockwell (1894–1977) believed in painting as an expression not only of cultural values—including, in his case, patriotism, community, and ordinary decency—but also as a means of telling quiet stories about life, and his huge body of work reflected his belief that “the idea itself probably is the most important element of the entire illustration.” Still, writes Claridge (Tamara de Lempicka, 1999), Rockwell was not without his sense of irony, and even his subversive side; for one thing, as Claridge notes, he undid a long tradition of depicting women with “arched eyebrows, enlarged eyes, no shadows on the face, no nostrils, Cupid’s bow mouth arranged in a sort of suppressed yawn” and replaced it with an insistent narrative realism in which not-exactly-beautiful people figure prominently. Though Rockwell enjoyed early success as an illustrator for Boys’ Life and the Saturday Evening Post, earning a handsome living as an artist while still in his teens, he wrestled with fears that he was a failure and became obsessed with money, which caused him constantly to make commitments to produce work that he could not possibly meet. Still, he did produce, by Claridge’s count, more than 4,000 paintings. For all his remarkable output, and although contemporaries like Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol praised his work, Rockwell was dismissed by contemporary critics as an old-fashioned hack, criticism he probably agreed with. Claridge’s exegesis of paintings such as Playing Checkers points to his very real skills while pointing out characteristic but not accidental shortcomings: “The careful and complex spatial composition, the unsettling use of vivid scarlets and scalding yellow, the brilliantly painted surfaces,” she writes, “all these are, finally, unspoiled by Rockwell’s typical compulsion to wrench at least one character’s expression into caricature, in the name of quick access to a story line.”

Claridge’s biography is timely, accompanying a widespread critical reappraisal of Rockwell’s work. Though there will still be those who sneer at him as a propagandist on canvas, her life makes a convincing case for Rockwell as genius and original.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50453-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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