Lucid and intelligent, but perhaps a little too low-key.

WOMAN OF ROME

A LIFE OF ELSA MORANTE

From National Book Award–winning novelist Tuck (The News from Paraguay, 2004, etc.), a concise biography of the Italian writer whose fiction explored the power of make-believe and the delusions by which people live.

Elsa Morante (1912–85) was unconventional from the moment of her birth—the eldest of four, all fathered by a man not their mother’s husband—to after her death, when a group of friends dug up her cremated remains and took them to be scattered in the waters surrounding the island of Procida, the setting for her beloved 1957 novel, Arturo’s Island. She married fellow novelist Alberto Moravia in 1941 and was still his wife when she died, but they had lived apart for years and had never been faithful, though they remained friends. Desperately poor as a struggling young writer, Morante displayed in her fiction a profound sympathy for the oppressed, the misfit and those disfigured or incapacitated by disease. This attitude would find its most emphatic expression in her 1974 bestseller History, controversial among Italy’s left-leaning intellectuals because the politically unaligned Morante painted such a pessimistic picture of proletarian life and the depredations of power. Fiercely devoted to truth-telling, she could be an uncomfortable person to know, but she was generous and loyal to her friends. (And expected the same; she never spoke again to Pier Paolo Pasolini after he brutally panned History.) She had wild mood swings, but loved pretty clothes, handsome men (she was one of director Luchino Visconti’s many lovers) and good food and conversation. Well-known and respected in Italy, Morante’s work is much more obscure in the English-speaking world, and it’s not quite clear why Tuck chose to write about her. Though the biographer offers appreciations of the individual novels, she never really conveys a coherent picture of Morante’s achievements as a writer. Those content with a vivid evocation of her powerful personality, however, will be satisfied by Tuck’s graceful aperçus.

Lucid and intelligent, but perhaps a little too low-key.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-147256-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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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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