Ureneck’s story is simple, but it rewards abundantly by affirming the unexpected possibilities for renewal that life offers.

A modern-day Walden with a midlife twist.

“I had been city-bound for nearly a decade, dealing with the usual knockdowns and disappointments of middle-age,” writes Ureneck (Journalism/Boston Univ.; Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska, 2007). “The notion of building a cabin—a boy’s dream really—seemed a way to get a purchase on life’s next turn.” The author was not consciously attempting a Thoreauvian experiment in self-sufficiency. Rather, he was trying to save himself from the wreckage—a painful divorce, the loss of his mother and uncles to death and disease and a major career change—of a life gone awry. Loneliness and despair threatened to engulf him; the only family members who remained were his two grown children, both of whom lived apart from him and his younger brother Paul, a man absorbed by his own trials. Heartsick and confused, he bought a piece of land in the woods of western Maine. There, Ureneck, along with his brother and his brother’s sons, spent the latter part of 2008 and all of 2009 constructing the cabin, “employing, as much as possible, old-fashioned wood joinery rather than nails.” At first, this “experiment in mental health” was the author’s way to enjoy the two things that had been constants in an otherwise fragmented life: Paul’s company and a love of the natural world. But as the project evolved, Ureneck realized that the cabin-building process—selecting the timber to use in construction; digging and laying in the foundations; assembling the wood pieces together; securing the final structure both inside and out—was allowing him to not only confront and resolve issues from his past, but also giving him the opportunity to build a mature relationship with a beloved brother he felt he had let down in youth.

Ureneck’s story is simple, but it rewards abundantly by affirming the unexpected possibilities for renewal that life offers.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02294-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011


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

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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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