VERTIGO

A MEMOIR

A biographer and literary critic's memoir of growing up in Hoboken, N.J., in a claustrophobic Italian-American family. DeSalvo (English/Hunter College; Conceived with Malice, 1994, etc.) was the first member of her working-class family to graduate from college. She escaped a stultifying home life—depressed and agoraphobic mother, belligerent and rigid father—through books, movies, study, and boys, boys, boys. She became a Virginia Woolf scholar, writing in her controversial 1989 study about the impact of childhood sexual abuse on Woolf's work. The effort to come to grips with the lingering mental strain caused by her mother's death, her sister's suicide, her memory of childhood traumas of her own—plus the intense, consuming life of an academic writer- -eventually compelled her to write about her own life in an effort to ``to give it some shape, some order.'' The result is an extremely readable book—if not necessarily a lovable one. DeSalvo's prose is plain; her tone often cool. We gain insight into her life and her mother's life—but not her dead sister's. New Jersey of the 1950s is vividly evoked, but DeSalvo's present situation as teacher, wife, and mother is less vivid. Among the book's best elements: a list of her mother's punitive and pathetic attempts at cooking—from liver, heart, and snails to head cheese, eels, and octupus. Vertigo's main failing is a lack of continuity; there is a grab-bag feeling to some of the reminiscences, and sometimes topics are misleadingly highlighted—a chapter called ``Anorexia,'' for example, is not about the anorexia of the author or anyone close to her, but rather about anorexia in general, and the effect is that of DeSalvo's trying to touch all possible feminist bases. Strangely cool, ultimately more successful as cultural history than psychological memoir, DeSalvo's book is nevertheless gripping in its parade of detail and profusion of stories about how ``a working-class Italian girl became a critic and writer.'' (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-93908-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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