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THE RED RIBBON

A MEMOIR OF LIGHTNING AND REBUILDING AFTER LOSS

A debut memoir that recounts a woman’s tragic loss and hard-won survival.

On July, 23, 1994, lightning struck Bills’ husband and their son—pseudonymously called “Geoff” and “Teddy” here, respectively—as they were kayaking off the coast of Maine. The strike took Geoff’s life and nearly did the same to Teddy. The author and several members of her family, including Teddy’s older brother, “Simon,” and his wife, rushed to the hospital in the nearby town of York, Maine. It was initially touch and go for Teddy, but he came through. Then, as Teddy recuperated physically, he and the author faced psychological and spiritual recuperation—which sometimes seemed to be a matter of taking one step forward and two steps back. After this tragedy, death seemed to shadow the author for the next few years; her aged parents back in Montana passed away, as did her uncle and Geoff’s sister, who was such a rock for her after the lightning strike. These losses engender a booklong meditation on mortality. However, Bills does survive the ordeal, and an afterword lets readers know that today, she, Teddy, and Simon are all doing OK. Memoirs of loss and survival are rather common, but what sets this one apart is Bills’ extraordinary perceptiveness and writing talent, as when she notes that “I’m a woman with an emotional thermometer always in her mouth.” Bills also raises intriguing questions, such as whether the obituary cliché “he died peacefully” is really ever true. Essentially the book is a collection of essays, but she uses fictional techniques when appropriate, and some chapters are given over to very impressive poetry. She poignantly evokes a happier past in her chapters about Geoff (they were separated at the time of his death) and their young family. And a chapter titled “The Myth,” in which she asks Geoff questions directly, is exceptionally and deeply moving. There are even moments of goofiness in a chapter on a graveside service (“Planting Iris”), which may take some readers aback, although it’s clear that the author understood the need for occasional levity.

A keeper of a book by a talented author.

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-573-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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 wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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