An earnest but uneven treatise that encourages informed choices by those facing intense pressure to have children.


The Female Assumption


A nonfiction work that aims to shed light on the real difficulties of motherhood and redefine it as just one path among many.

According to Holmes, despite the gains of feminism, most women have been “indoctrinated” into believing that motherhood is their main goal by a society that puts too much emphasis on its joys and not enough on its challenges. The author, a mother of three, wrote this book, in part, to inform her own daughter of motherhood’s gritty truths. For example, “Dirty Little Secret #1” is that “You will lose a big part of yourself once you become a mom”; and “Dirty Little Secret #8” is that “Kids are grounded in the belief that their moms revolve around them, even into adulthood.” Using personal experience, interviews, polls, and vignettes about women with and without children, Holmes discusses issues such as work/life balance, competitive mothering (including elaborate children’s birthday parties), the emotional and financial costs of kids, and parenting when single or divorced. She also considers issues such as access to birth control, choosing childlessness, and rewriting cultural scripts. Although some of the book could apply to men, Holmes specifically addresses women because, she says, men aren’t “grilled as regularly about procreating.” She admits that “This conversation has been around before,” but “in the words of writer and lecturer Stephanie Mills, ‘the topic keeps vanishing.’ ” It’s a good thing to counteract overly sentimental, restrictive views of motherhood and encourage thoughtfulness. However, Holmes’ tone of revelation is puzzling, particularly regarding the so-called “secrets.” Kids are demanding, they get into your stuff, and they’re expensive—but is any of this surprising? The author also seems to take her own experiences (including her Catholic childhood in a conservative family, her naiveté about child-rearing, and her unwillingness to face family pressure) as the norm, and she doesn’t deeply examine some of her choices, such as performing all of her household’s child-rearing and housekeeping tasks while also working full-time. She weakens her argument through hyperbole, such as by characterizing socialization as “indoctrination” that’s impossible to overcome—despite her own contrary examples of women who are childless by choice.

An earnest but uneven treatise that encourages informed choices by those facing intense pressure to have children.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500933050

Page Count: 202

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 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. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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