Not self-help by any stretch, but it will be of interest to anyone recently touched by death.

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A TROUBLED GUEST

LIFE AND DEATH STORIES

A series of personal essays about death, by someone who has seen more than her share of it recently and who, due to her own advancing multiple sclerosis, has reason to contemplate her own.

As she’s done throughout her earlier work (Waist High in the World, 1997, etc.), Mairs draws on her own often harrowing experience to illuminate a subject Americans find difficult to confront: in this case, death. As she puts it at the start, “few seem capable of contemplating their own end . . . I thought I might try.” In clear, unaffected prose that quickly establishes—along with her candor—an intimacy with the reader, Mairs begins by explaining her feelings toward her own impending death. At this point, her MS has confined her to a wheelchair, rendering even the simplest things, such as using the toilet, major undertakings. As someone who views death as both a natural condition of life and who also believes that the essence of a person survives death in some form, Mairs appears to have attained an enviable equanimity respecting her own mortality. Yet even she concedes that the prospect awakes a nostalgia for those pleasures that make us human, like the “bob and snuffle of a newborn’s head against a shoulder.” As she puts it, “I find myself overcome with grief for a slew of ‘nevers’ and ‘never agains.’ ” Despite the obvious loss that death entails, Mairs urges us to confront it openly and without fear. Those mourning loved ones, for instance, suffer when their friends, out of a misguided sense of politeness or simple embarrassment, fail to acknowledge the death with anything more than a mumbled platitude. In a similar vein, Mairs warns that death with dignity is possible, but only if death is contemplated in advance so that the end, particularly with respect to medical intervention, can be controlled.

Not self-help by any stretch, but it will be of interest to anyone recently touched by death.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-8070-6248-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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