THE CHINABERRY TREE

A MEMOIR

The love that binds a family—and the hidden fissures that fracture it—are revealed in this haunting memoir.

In some ways Alexander’s Irish Catholic family is a picture of strength and longevity; her parents never divorced and raised three daughters and a son without glaring dysfunctions. But there were sharp heartaches during her childhood in Corpus Christi, Texas, including a stillbirth. And there were more muted conflicts, the author writes, between “[m]y mother, ill-equipped to speak her mind, [and] my father, ill-equipped to read it”; between the author and her siblings; and between the family as a whole and her domineering father, whose return from work each day was “unceremonious, unnoticed and as far as he was concerned, unwelcome.” Alexander (Choices 86,400 a Day, 2011) traces these tensions back to her parents’ and grandparents’ hardscrabble childhoods and to their loss of loved ones and experience of disruption, and forward to the fraying ties between her parents and their adult children, especially the son who incurred her father’s anger for marrying outside the church. Eventually, in her parents’ old age, as the author pushes their wheelchairs and tends to their frailties, wounds and estrangement partially heal amid a renewed sense of all they share. Alexander lays out this history obliquely in a series of fleeting, fragmentary, poetic vignettes, often no more than a solitary paragraph or stanza, that merge into a pointillist tapestry. Her prose is quiet, but it has a luminous immediacy—“One morning I saw my mother spellbound by sunlit patterns on the kitchen counter, the ladder slats of the window blinds tilted just right”—that brings the plainest domestic scene to life; her voice is restrained, yet she uses it to convey intense emotions. As much as this book is about disappointment, grief and regret, it’s also about the affection and longing that make those feelings so painful. An album of finely wrought, moving impressions of relationships and buried feelings.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-463515195

Page Count: 236

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

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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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