An accomplished, lyrical vision of a locality over several generations.

Cloud of Expectation

From the The In America Series series , Vol. 1

Westphal, in his debut, reanimates the small Arkansas town of his youth in this new volume of poetry and prose.

In this rumination on a bygone place and time, the working-class German-American community of the poet’s childhood—and his father’s and his grandfather’s—is rendered through the naïve, hungry eyes of childhood: the baseball fields and factories, the parties and civic events, the majesty of Mass, and the warmth of community. It’s a perspective aware of the prevailing economic hardship and blue-collar angst as well as the minority communities that linger silently on the periphery. Adults in this world don’t often complain and certainly not in the presence of the younger generations; patience and grateful fatigue are the main characteristics. African-Americans in the community, for instance, “seemed to draw their breath / from a deep reservoir of ease, as a man might draw from a cigarette, / and to share in some silent low communion, / their voices like bassoons and flutes / in muted conversation.” And yet, at the edges, and with the hindsight of maturity, Westphal can see the places where these self-made myths began to fray. The collection is divided into sections composed of both poetry and prose flowing in and out of each other, rarely demarcated by titles, creating a sense of cohesion that pulls the reader through the work. Westphal’s voice drifts assuredly between the plainspoken and the lyrical in a buoyant, unpretentious style still able to achieve moments of brilliance. Occasionally he missteps—take, for example, a “prelapsarian Eden of innocence”—but for the most part he keeps his syllables short and guttural, finding the natural alliterations of common speech: “As the daylight ebbed, / the clouds left and right would light up inwardly / with electrical discharges, / signaling each other across the summer distances.” If the book drips a bit heavily with nostalgia, Westphal is hardly the first poet to fall into that trap. What is impressive is how he’s able to render a highly modest society in poetry that simultaneously elevates its struggles while staying true to its aesthetic sensibilities.

An accomplished, lyrical vision of a locality over several generations.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-5141-3752-9

Page Count: 205

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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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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