A book written as much or more for the author as for any readership, but those going through similar trials will take much...

LOSING HELEN

A short and powerful evocation of a mother’s death and of the events immediately preceding them.

The cover categorizes this slice of memoir from Becker (Arts/Columbia Univ. School of the Arts) as an “essay,” and it is also described as a “meditation.” The author begins and ends with her mother’s death, cremation, and interment, but the revelations in the body of the book do more than bring this full circle. “Shame exists even in the shame of feeling ashamed,” writes the author, as she examines how the mixed marriage between her Jewish father and his Catholic bride threatened to generate so much shame that they initially kept it a secret. Rather than developing tolerance, they transferred that stigma to their daughter; her “father disowned [her] several decades ago for having a relationship with a man of mixed race.” Though her love for her parents, and her mother in particular, seems unconditional in these pages, she says that their relationship “had not been easy or comfortable.” As her parents aged, they moved from their native Brooklyn to the warm haven of Florida, where they adjusted to new ways (and new friends) without giving up their own. Her mother was a widow in her 90s when her health started failing, and though the author “had always thought my mother would slip away gently…[t]hat was not the case.” Instead, her decline coincided with a destructive hurricane, leaving other residences leveled and the region without electricity for two weeks. Yet as her mother’s condition had been labeled “Failure to Thrive,” when she was allowed to go home to hospice care, the subtle struggle between mother and daughter eased as well. By the end of the book, Becker has seen death bring “the beginning of a new relationship with my mother,” one evolving through “minor miracles.” Readers may not believe in these, but the author does, absolutely.

A book written as much or more for the author as for any readership, but those going through similar trials will take much solace from the author’s story.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59709-990-5

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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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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