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Heart on a Sleeve

An ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying set of loosely interconnected tales, each of which require further embellishment to...

Lamb (Do as I Say and Not as I Do, 2013, etc.) charts rifts and bonds in American families across four centuries in this novella.

The five stories presented here tell of the Collings, Flournoy, Landis, and Atkins families, beginning in the early 1800s and ending in the early 2100s. Each story is linked to the previous one by blood ties (all laid out in a family tree at the beginning of the novella). The opening tale introduces John Collings, a 13-year-old boy whose father, Richard, is away fighting the British. It becomes his responsibility to take care of the livestock on his parents’ farm, yet as he struggles to fit the mold of manhood, his relationship with his mother deteriorates. The young boy’s rapid coming-of-age in the wilderness is engaging and psychologically detailed, yet the story is disappointingly cut short with an open-ended conclusion. This is the novella’s standout tale, however, and it showcases the author’s skill as a master of suspense; the accelerated breath of fear is almost audible in Lamb’s writing: “As the sounds came closer they did not resemble any animal he recognized. Within seconds a man passed through the dense undergrowth about twenty feet to the left of John, paused for a moment, and then fell forward on a cluster of elderberry plants as heavily as a drunk collapsing onto his bed.” Other stories recount a shotgun wedding, a family’s relationship with an African-American servant, and the complex and fraught relationship among a father, his son, and his Native American foster child. Each story shows that the author possesses the necessary tools to engage and hold his audience, but he also struggles to conclude his narratives. As a result, four stories here seem more like promising beginnings to tales that are yet untold. The fifth, set at the beginning of the 22nd century, approaches the concept of memory augmentation and tells of a mother receiving treatment to erase painful recollections of her dead son. It’s a short, abstract, and undeveloped vignette tacked on seemingly as an afterthought in order to stretch out the narrative timeline.

An ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying set of loosely interconnected tales, each of which require further embellishment to make them feel whole. 

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5350-2613-0

Page Count: 118

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2016

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.


Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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