A fine, if familiar, portrayal of a bold, vulnerable, questing artist.

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PICASSO AND THE PAINTING THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD

Pablo Picasso’s artistic evolution culminated in one huge, irreverent, iconoclastic painting.

Economist contributor Unger (Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, 2014, etc.), former managing editor of Art New England, focuses on Picasso’s masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to examine the artist’s early career. This period of Picasso’s life has been recounted in detail in memoirs (by his mistress Fernande Olivier, for example, and his friends André Salmon and Gertrude Stein), histories (Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years stands out), and biographies by art historians and scholars. Unger synthesizes this material into a graceful narrative but offers little new. He has uncovered, however, an unpleasant episode in Picasso’s life when he and Fernande adopted a 13-year-old orphan, perhaps because Fernande “thought that a child in their life would bring them closer together.” The project failed: after four months, it became clear that the girl’s presence “was putting unbearable strains on an already strained situation,” and the girl was sent back to the orphanage, escorted by their ever patient and loyal friend Max Jacob. Unger’s Picasso is intense, brilliant—exuding “a dangerous charisma”—and selfish: his ability to compartmentalize “often amounted to callousness, particularly when an emotional entanglement threatened to interfere with his work.” He was superstitious, seeing “magic in form and meaning in coincidence.” For Picasso, Unger asserts, “art was not primarily a visual language but a method of manipulating unseen forces. Cubism was an attempt to invest the image with a potency greater than mere illusion.” His belief in magical forces attracted him to African art, especially fetishes, and to “worn, rubbed, threadbare objects that carry the marks of human usage.” He was a hoarder, as well, and many of his “humble scraps” made their ways into his paintings and sculptures. Unger offers perceptive descriptions of many of Picasso’s major works, not least Les Demoiselles, a painting “too desperate, too restless, too multivalent, to serve as the manifesto of any movement.”

A fine, if familiar, portrayal of a bold, vulnerable, questing artist.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9421-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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UNTAMED

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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