GROUP PORTRAIT

JOSEPH CONRAD, STEPHEN CRANE, FORD MADOX FORD, HENRY JAMES, AND H.G. WELLS

After a long stretch of portentous yet limp throat-clearing, novelist Delbanco (Sherbrookes, etc.) offers the slim substance here: three small, chatty studies in literary "collegiality"—all of them involving writers who lived in the same area of England (Kent and East Sussex) around 1900. ("They drawl and carry pistols and flourish their umbrellas or their walking sticks. They will change the face of fiction in our time.") First come the last days of American wonder-boy and fun-loving host Stephen Crane—and how the others reacted to his early demise: Delbanco argues (not very persuasively) that, contra Leon Edel, Henry James did probably agonize over Crane's death; he suggests that Ford Madox Ford be given "the benefit of the doubt" re his purplish recollections of Crane; he celebrates the intense Crane/Conrad friendship; and he finally ponders Crane's artistic decline, ending up on a characteristically blurry note. ("Had he recovered, so might have the prose.") Then there's another look at the much-chronicled Conrad/Ford collaborations, with brief analysis of the different degrees of collaboration (re "Amy Foster," Nostromo, and Romance) and consideration of the partnership's influence on both writers' later work; Delbanco contends that "If Conrad gained in fluency while working on Romance, Ford learned profluence"—and that "Ford released the elder man to create profound scenarios by helping him to realize the surface of his texts." And, finally, there's the unlikely acquaintanceship of James and H. G. Wells ("It is as if Borges and Jimmy Breslin met for cocktails weekly")—a relationship that soon deteriorated into condescension from James and cruel parodies from Wells; yet here again Delbanco is determined to accentuate the positive, asserting that "What seems exceptional here is that Wells and James were close—not that they disagreed." Throughout, in fact, Delbanco leans on his Pollyanna-ish view of writer interaction so hard (especially in a goopy epilogue) that even his soundly-based points become suspect. And the sense of woolly-mindedness is compounded by the prose, which is slangy yet stuffy, with clichÉs running free ("forest for the trees," "with a grain of salt," "worth his salt," etc., etc.). All in all: familia material, sketchy—and unconvincingly didactic—treatment.

Pub Date: April 16, 1982

ISBN: 0881845841

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1982

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more