Heartfelt, endearing, and, most significantly, a vital historical record of a Southern town.




A West Virginia woman remembers growing up in a tough coal mining community in this memoir.

“Current day Minden is a small and economically depressed community of homes,” remarks Frazer. Yet during her childhood, this small mining town, some 50 miles southeast of Charleston, West Virginia, was a hive of activity. The author captures Minden in the 1940s and ’50s, the end of the boomtown era, a time when she was still in school. Frazer, youngest of seven brothers and sisters—after Squeaky, Charles, Robert, John, Sue, and Ann—is known as “Sissy Crone.” She writes of growing up in Minden: “The vibrant wildflowers gave us beauty, the church gave us faith, and the miners represented work ethics.” This ability to find beauty and positivity in a place that others referred to as a “hole” permeates the book. This is a record of a bygone way of life, a time when the boys beat the girls at marbles but the girls outplayed them at jacks. Frazer effortlessly captures the naiveté of childhood. Instances such as when she innocently asks her mother why their neighbor Maggie has a red light in the window should make readers’ hearts melt. Reverence of the hardworking, blue-collar father figure is palpable: “He always has a tidy appearance. He is not a big frame man, but his body is tough as a rock from the years of mining coal.” Yet this is a broader celebration of the love and tenacity of the American working-class family and the tightly knit community in which it is housed. Frazer’s (A Walk Through Minden, 2016) writing style is uncomplicated, matter-of-fact, and laden with aphorisms: “Daddy says that you can’t live in fear because it can eat away at you. He and Mama say we should be grateful for what we have.” This is by no means a criticism, as the author’s plain language mirrors her subject faithfully. This is an important book, as it forms a record of everyday life that would otherwise be lost with the passage of generations. Illustrated with photographs throughout, the account offers stories that have a cumulative emotional power, vividly evoking mid-20th-century life in a remote mining town.

Heartfelt, endearing, and, most significantly, a vital historical record of a Southern town.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5462-2656-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


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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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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