A funny, informed, daringly constructed literary biography.

An ingenious dual biography of a classic American author and an unlikely literary muse.

The romance between novelist Nathanael West (1903–1940) and Eileen McKenney (1914–1940) was tragically brief. They met in October 1939, married six months later and died in a car accident shortly before Christmas 1940. Consequently, only a fraction of the latest biography by Meade (Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, 2004, etc.) covers the life the two shared together. However, the book shows that they were often kindred spirits, and the author offers a glimpse of how literary life functioned on the East and West Coasts in the ’20s and ’30s. The son of an upper-middle-class Manhattan family, West grew up as a ne’er-do-well who entered Brown University by essentially committing identity theft. Battling his own lassitude and a pervasive anti-Semitism—he eventually changed his name from Nathan Weinstein—he found time in New York to produce a handful of comic novels, including the acclaimed Miss Lonelyhearts (1933). He struck his fortune in Hollywood, though, getting to know the many writers who headed to California to make a quick buck from the studios—a culture West skewered in his final novel, The Day of the Locust (1939). McKenney wasn’t an author, but she was embraced by New York’s literati thanks to her sister, Ruth, whose series of embellished humor pieces about Eileen ran in the New Yorker. For all their notoriety, each harbored deep anxieties that helped connect them. West questioned his talents and bemoaned his poor sales, while McKenney was a product of a broken home who raised her son alone after divorcing her alcoholic husband. Meade doesn’t labor to suggest that the pairing was kismet, nor does she aggressively foreshadow the accident that cut short her subject’s lives. Instead, she foregrounds their intelligence, humor and luck—both dodged the worst of the Great Depression—and creates a substantive tale about finding the good life in tough times.

A funny, informed, daringly constructed literary biography.

Pub Date: March 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-15-101149-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2009


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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