An energetic, sometimes entertaining but also shapeless and often chaotic account of a misspent youth.

AKA MICHAEL

The killing of one parent by another is just one of many upheavals in a New York boy’s life in this memoir.

When he was in the sixth grade in 1975, Garramone’s mother, Alma, shot and killed his father, John, in the family’s diner in Flushing, Queens. She was sent to a psychiatric hospital and subsequently acquitted on a plea of spousal abuse. That would be enough to traumatize any kid, but the tragedy doesn’t register strongly amid the swirl of untoward events in the author’s story. After the killing, Garramone led an unsettled existence: skipping school; living sometimes with friends and relatives, sometimes at his mother’s house with sketchy boarders; and drifting through a delinquent adolescence marked by auto theft, credit card fraud, minor drug dealing, and major drug taking with his similarly dead-end, working-class friends. He weathered another major blow when he and Alma were arrested on charges—bogus, he insists—of conspiracy to kidnap and attempted murder. He was released after a brief stint in jail, but Alma got five and a half years. He promptly settled back into an aimless picaresque with lots of drugging and drinking with pals, joy riding, occasional hookups, a horrendous motorcycle accident, fitful stints of menial employment, a one-off session of gay sex for hire, a solicitation to become a hitman (declined), and a thousand other random incidents. As the author headed into his 20s, he tried to embark on a career in real estate investment, which he describes in a lengthy section full of fixer-upper procedural and wrangles with banks and brokers. Unfortunately, his dream foundered; he claims his partner cheated him and his tenants failed to pay their rent.

Garramone’s Runyonesque coming-of-age saga has sharply etched characters, from smug school administrators to dirty cops and seen-it-all prostitutes, along with well-crafted, punchy dialogue (recreated, it seems, since he is recalling conversations from 40 years ago). As the protagonist, the author is always a vibrant figure, full of belligerent sarcasm and anti-authoritarian attitude, whether he’s a skeptical tyke facing his first day of school (“Homework…Jeez, don’t I do enough work around here?”), a prisoner confronting a guard (“Well, if you’re so tough, why don’t you take me outside the building, take my cuffs off, and we’ll play a little winner take all?”), or a mangled crash victim annoyed by an X-ray technician’s painful brusqueness (“Stand me up, motherfucker! Stand me up against a wall, and I’ll kill you, motherfucker, even with one hand!”). The author’s feisty prose imparts plenty of sound and fury to the proceedings, but not always much significance. Some of Garramone’s recollections are well drawn and captivating, but many are in an ill-edited narrative that’s overstuffed with seemingly every happenstance he can remember, including the time a chipmunk crawled up his leg, the time his cousin Dino urinated near him in a stream, and innumerable barroom brawls over nothing. There’s a certain lifelike feel to this one-damn-thing-after-another jumble, but readers will find it trying to have to relive every trivial event in the author’s life. They will get little sense of where the arc of Garramone’s experiences is going in a story that expends its considerable horsepower mainly on spinning its wheels.

An energetic, sometimes entertaining but also shapeless and often chaotic account of a misspent youth.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 457

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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