A mostly compelling book about a complicated question: if identity is made of memory and memory does not cohere, how do we...

CALIFORNIA CALLING

A SELF-INTERROGATION

Singer’s first book is a memoir of two obsessions: with California and with finding a place for herself.

The story begins with the dissolution of the author’s family and her move, at 16, with younger siblings, mother, and stepfather, from Montreal to California, a place with which she has been absorbed for years. “My affair with California begins many years before we meet,” writes the author, recalling an early library encounter with a book about the Golden State. “A state?” she wondered. “Like New York, where we drive once a year across the border to do our school shopping, hiding new clothes and shoes deep in our Jeep’s trunk on the way back, away from the customs officials so we don’t have to pay extra taxes?” Singer’s glee at being in California was complicated by a custody battle involving one of her brothers. “Are you sexually active?” That was the question the opposing counsel asked her just before she took the stand on her mother’s behalf. It was a treacherous moment, but while Singer draws her structure from it—the book is built, more or less, as a series of interrogations and responses—she is interested in treachery of a more personal sort. The author is at her best when she uses narrative to examine disconnection, as with the Taylors, a family for whom she worked yet never quite belonged. “Two of my own families,” she writes, “have already exploded. Nuclear family has not proved successful, but still I am drawn to it.” This search for place took Singer north, where she researched a serial killer in Yosemite, though she was really looking for herself. As the book progresses, it becomes less fragmentary. On one hand, that’s inevitable given the difficulty of stitching together a book of fragments. On the other, it’s disappointing given the strength of her fractured approach.

A mostly compelling book about a complicated question: if identity is made of memory and memory does not cohere, how do we build a self from the shards?

Pub Date: March 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9988257-1-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hawthorne Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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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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