Like Cave’s growling music, this book isn’t for everyone, but who doesn’t like the specter of “a gloop of ectoplasm spurting...

THE SICK BAG SONG

The gloomy Aussie rock star ponders the ways of the road in this blend of prose and poetry.

The sick bag: until the airlines decide to trim the cost, every seatback contains one. Constantly airborne but not prone to motion sickness, Cave (The Death of Bunny Munro, 2009) chose to use the device as an impromptu notebook to record a tour of 2014. “You must take the first step alone,” his guardian angel intoned as, packed into a van brought to a crawl on the highway by a decapitated accident victim, he tried to get some sleep. A few cities later, the author had a theme: a man at a German restaurant in Milwaukee served him “a pretzel big as a severed human head.” It’s not the most appetizing vision, but Cave’s sick bag becomes a medicine bundle of a kind, a storeroom of such images, to say nothing of books by Patti Smith and songs by Elvis Presley and company. The author hovers above the Platonic domains of beauty and ugliness, the former perhaps best represented by Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry, who waves his manicured hand across an idyllic English landscape and confesses to not having written a song in years, saying, “there is nothing to write about.” A devotee of grimmer venues, Cave surveys the loveliness of a Canadian river (“pleasant,” “faultless,” and “fabulous” are three of the glowing adjectives that come in quick succession) and then rushes back to the hotel to write a poem that begins, “I was born in a puddle of blood wanting everything.” Well, at least the head remains on the body. Along the way, Cave channels Allen Ginsberg (“Hop in my sick bag! All you wild Texas girls!”), casts a sideways look or two at rock-star fame and the music business, and generally amuses himself with bouquets of words.

Like Cave’s growling music, this book isn’t for everyone, but who doesn’t like the specter of “a gloop of ectoplasm spurting through the orange air”?

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-81465-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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