An impressive literary debut.

FOR SINGLE MOTHERS WORKING AS TRAIN CONDUCTORS

A translator’s command of language belatedly finds her translating her own life.

Wolfson describes herself as working “in a difficult-to-name genre containing generous helpings of the lived, the observed and the overheard…[and a] blurring of distinctions that had long struck me as artificial and unnecessary.” In a volume that is more cohesive than a typical essay collection, the pieces flow together like memoir, though an elliptical one, in which the author is “omitting a lot, almost everything, in fact.” Yet her writing attests to a remarkable life, one rendered with a remarkable verbal facility. She long supported herself as a translator, primarily of Russian, a language she was inspired to learn in order to read Anna Karenina. She eventually did, but her deeper connection to the language resulted from her marriage to a Russian man, whom she divorced because he resisted having children even more than she wanted them. The book’s odd title comes from her husband’s insistence that if they were to have a child, they would need “twenty-four-hour day care.” Well after she had divorced him and married again, she learned that this was actually an option in Russia, “for single mothers working as train conductors,” and thus away from home for days on end. Wolfson subsequently spent years immersing herself in the study of Yiddish as a way of coming to terms with her own identity within a family of mostly nonobservant Jews. Then she suffered a collapsed lung, caused by a disease she couldn’t pronounce. It was degenerative and usually fatal, making her pregnancy too great of a risk in her second marriage (which also collapsed). Where essayists often strain to find topics to muse about, this evocatively detailed and richly experienced writing reflects a life with no dearth of material. But as she tells an aspiring writer, “what’s important about a book is not so much what happens in it, but how the writer tells it.” Wolfson unquestionably tells it well.

An impressive literary debut.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60938-581-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more