CONCEIVED WITH MALICE

LITERATURE AS REVENGE IN THE LIVES AND WORKS OF VIRGINIA AND LEONARD WOOLF, D.H. LAWRENCE, DJUNA BARNES, AND HENRY MILLER

DeSalvo (Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work, 1989) demonstrates that when the act of creation is also one of revenge, the primal ooze of literature can be extremely foul. But her project begs the underlying question for literary criticism of the relation between a writer's life and work. DeSalvo examines four authors who turned family and friends into characters in their fiction. Before Leonard and Virginia Woolf's marriage settled into an exemplary working partnership, it went through a poisonous phase; he published The Wise Virgins, which attacked the way Virginia ``looked, talked, and thought,'' satirized and rewrote scenes from her novel The Voyage Out, and fictionally erased their marriage when the ``Leonard'' character decided not to marry the ``Virginia'' character. When D.H. Lawrence became disenchanted with his friend Lady Ottoline Morell, he created a contemptuous portrait of her as Women in Love's Hermione Rodrice. Although Bloomsbury gossips (and his wife, Frieda, whose dislike for Ottoline was returned in kind) were delighted, Ottoline was crushed and humiliated. During the first 18 years of her life Djuna Barnes had no contact with people outside her family, which, DeSalvo reports, practiced incest, ritual rape, group sex, spirit possession, bestiality, and forced voyeurism. Although her early works referred obliquely to these events, it was not until her mother died that Barnes penned her most autobiographical work, The Antiphon, exploring the horrors inflicted on children by their own parents. Henry Miller's obsession with his dark muse and second wife, June (and her insistence that a former Western Union clerk could become a writer), dragged them through an emotionally explosive and mutually exploitative relationship during which her work as a prostitute barely maintained them in grinding poverty. A work that reveals a disturbing fascination with the rottenness at the core of some literature and delivers it with the relish of a tabloid.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 1994

ISBN: 0-525-93899-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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