An enjoyable memoir of life upstate.


Could You Be Startin' From Somewhere Else?


A retired humanities professor looks back on his upbringing in working-class Buffalo, New York, during the 1950s.

Shurgot (North American Players of Shakespeare, 2007, etc.) writes that he has “sketched here the childhood that for many years I chose not so much to forget as to ignore.” The city he describes feels at once completely familiar and utterly foreign. His Buffalo is one of coal men and rag men, of steel-toe Red Wing boots, of winter ice chopped from Lake Erie to cool the city’s iceboxes, and neighbors in summertime sitting on their porches listening to the broadcast of a baseball game. He is the oldest son of an energetic Irish mother, drawn with verve and affection, and a taciturn Ukrainian father who threatened to inscribe his wife’s tombstone with the words, “She detested peace and quiet.” There’s not much conflict in these chapters, which discretely detail stories involving things from Catholicism to water skiing; nevertheless, Shurgot gamely explores the misdemeanors that exist in any family. They mostly stem from a somewhat withholding father who brushes off his children’s bids for attention, hurting them more than he probably realizes. Thinking back to the way his father often classed each home repair project as “a one-man job,” Shurgot “vowed that I would never utter that phrase to my children.” His two sisters received even less attention, and Shurgot draws a line from that mild neglect to one’s teenage pregnancy. He’s conscious in retrospect not only of that subtly different treatment, but also of Buffalo’s broader racial segregation, which meant he saw no black people except at minor league Buffalo Bisons games. But this retrospection also constitutes the book’s most frustrating flaw: Many of the stories are told from a distance of years, uncolored by the immediacy of sensory detail as he narrates the experiences rather than re-creates them. Still, the nostalgic detail and Shurgot’s own honesty hit home. When, decades later at a Seattle party, the author mentions he’s from Buffalo, a well-heeled wag responds, “I’m so sorry.” “I’m not,” he huffs; readers won’t be, either.

An enjoyable memoir of life upstate.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495248900

Page Count: 144

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...


Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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