Martin is an expert memoirist willing to explore every remembered utterance for emotional weight, though at times he keeps...

SUCH A LIFE

A novelist explores his rural, dysfunctional upbringing for hints of the writer he would become.

For his third memoir, Martin (English and Creative Writing/Ohio St. Univ.; Break the Skin, 2011, etc.) assembles a series of personal essays that run roughly in chronological order, from his childhood in a small Illinois farm town to his more urbane, literate adulthood. His father looms large over many of these pieces, and understandably so: He lost both of his hands in a farming accident, becoming a sour and abusive parent, and many of the early pieces are concerned with Martin proving his manliness to adults. In “You Want It?,” a particularly strong piece, the author recalls working a summer farm job at 14 and shrewdly lays out the subtle parrying among the boys, exposing the reasons why some boys bully and why some do or don’t push back. Martin can seemingly turn any subject back to his hardscrabble youth: Asked to write about the Pittsburgh mansion of robber baron Henry Clay Frick, he bounces the industrialist’s wealth against the lives of the working-class men he better relates to. The author’s prose is carefully controlled, which is a welcome counter to the flash, drama and broad comedy that mark noisier (and more factually suspect) memoirs. But at times the narrative feels more bloodless than it ought to be. On a number of occasions Martin mentions a debate with his wife over their childlessness, but his avoidance of discussing the tension between them sticks out. In “Somniloquy,” he strains to connect his childhood sleepwalking to his mother-in-law’s sad decline from Alzheimer’s, but some stories don’t need such effortful metaphorical setups or so much attention on the author.

Martin is an expert memoirist willing to explore every remembered utterance for emotional weight, though at times he keeps the reader at too far a distance.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8032-3647-9

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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