Phillips’s rebirth is a beautiful thing to behold, fresh air rushing through a scarred system.

READ REVIEW

MY FATHER’S CABIN

A TALE OF LIFE, LOVE, LOSS AND LAND

A hard-bitten, working-class childhood on the fringes of decaying Buffalo, New York, goes a long way toward rendering freelancer Phillips’s memoir into a plaint, an extended ache that finds its way right into the reader’s heart.

Like a good train wreck, this family history has a way of holding your attention despite the pain and sorrow. Buffalo had aged badly by the time Phillips was born into the shadow of the cruddy industrial city in the 1950s. His father was an enormous presence, albeit a mostly absent one as he poured on the overtime at the power plant, breathing in the coal dust as he spot-welded the rickety equipment, pushing to make every possible dollar, then to return home to collapse before the television, with a beer and a butt. He was exhausted and tetchy, a combination monster and guardian angel, who endured “boring dangerous filthy sweaty deafening work” in hopes of saving enough money to buy a piece of land in the Alleghenies: to hunt and fish, to commune with his son. The father’s dream isn’t shared by the family, and it is not a happy life, though not a grossly unhappy one. But it gets no better for the young Phillips when he develops Tourette’s syndrome. Teased at home and at school for his garden of tics and weird talk, he becomes withdrawn and violent, anonymously disruptive at school, all the while fiercely trying to control his behavior. His writing echoes that emotional stifling: blanched and hollow-eyed, eerie and foreboding and breathtaking, it’s close to a heart monitor’s flat line. Then, in a terrible saving grace, as his father dies a long death to cancer, the cabin is built, father and son tangle their heartstrings, the “coal-black and electric-bright American dream” becomes fate and fatality, and Phillips goes on to a better life by far, a life in that very same cabin.

Phillips’s rebirth is a beautiful thing to behold, fresh air rushing through a scarred system.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58574-391-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

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. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

HOW TO RAISE A READER

Savvy counsel and starter lists for fretting parents.

New York Times Book Review editor Paul (My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, 2017, etc.) and Russo, the children’s book editor for that publication, provide standard-issue but deftly noninvasive strategies for making books and reading integral elements in children’s lives. Some of it is easier said than done, but all is intended to promote “the natural, timeless, time-stopping joys of reading” for pleasure. Mediumwise, print reigns supreme, with mild approval for audio and video books but discouraging words about reading apps and the hazards of children becoming “slaves to the screen.” In a series of chapters keyed to stages of childhood, infancy to the teen years, the authors supplement their advice with short lists of developmentally appropriate titles—by their lights, anyway: Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game on a list for teens?—all kitted out with enticing annotations. The authors enlarge their offerings with thematic lists, from “Books That Made Us Laugh” to “Historical Fiction.” In each set, the authors go for a mix of recent and perennially popular favorites, leaving off mention of publication dates so that hoary classics like Janice May Udry’s A Tree Is Nice seem as fresh as David Wiesner’s Flotsam and Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? and sidestepping controversial titles and themes in the sections for younger and middle-grade readers—with a few exceptions, such as a cautionary note that some grown-ups see “relentless overparenting” in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series doesn’t make the cut except for a passing reference to its “troubling treatment of Indians.” The teen lists tend to be edgier, salted with the provocative likes of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, and a nod to current demands for more LGBTQ and other #ownvoices books casts at least a glance beyond the mainstream. Yaccarino leads a quartet of illustrators who supplement the occasional book cover thumbnails with vignettes and larger views of children happily absorbed in reading.

Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5235-0530-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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