An emotional remembrance told in controlled but expressive language.


A poetic memoir that explores childhood abuse and mental illness.

Inglewood, California, in 1988 was “bright and loud,” according to Chaney, “spilling brown colored kids out on the sidewalk, like butterflies or trash, their mothers screaming at them from the front door.” As a kindergartner, she mostly wanted to look at bugs in the yard and follow her older sister around; she didn’t really like going to school, where she sometimes embarrassingly wet her pants, although she did like the school library and its shelves upon shelves of books, which stirred her imagination. She also enjoyed spending time with her single mother—a rarity, as Chaney and her older sister were often left to their own devices while their mom worked as a law-firm secretary. But she didn’t like it when her mother acted strangely, telling Chaney that she’d been hearing voices and asking her daughter if she heard them, too; the author said she did even though she didn’t. Her mom would bring boyfriends home at night while Chaney and her sister were supposed to be sleeping, and the author would hear sounds through the walls: “Lots of high and low loud voices that rise and fall towards crashes of laughter. Or sounds that aren’t words, / Umm/ Hum, / Yeah, / Whoooo, / like the sounds of strings and drums tapping out a rhythm I can almost understand.” After one of these boyfriends sexually abused the author, her world turned into one of terrible hardship—one in which she was forced to learn how to keep herself afloat in a sea of chaos.

Chaney tells her story in a highly lyrical prose style that pays close attention to sound and rhythm and highlights a deep, embodied interiority. Here, for example, she describes to her absent mother a time when she and her sister fashioned their own waterslide out of trash bags and water from a garden hose: “You aren’t home so it doesn’t matter what we get wet in, but I see [my sister] frowning looking at the bags and the water running….Her head nods left and then nods right. She bites her lip. Niki, you go first.” The writing is consistently vivid and affecting throughout, replicating the wide-eyed but perceptive point of view of a child who’s desperately attuned to her mother’s moods. The author’s use of unconventional formatting is particularly engaging: For several chapters, Chaney recounts her memories as though speaking to her mother, rendering the text as standard columns, interrupted by occasional italicized asides of dialogue; then, two-thirds of the way through, the perspective switches to that of her parent, whose responses are rendered as slanted lines that effectively mimic the instability of her emotional state. Finally, Chaney speaks again, this time to herself, with the text taking an ovular form of insect wings. Although the work is often a difficult read, the journey it describes is as cathartic as it is discomfiting, and it ends up in a place of unexpected beauty.

An emotional remembrance told in controlled but expressive language.

Pub Date: April 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-955969-03-1

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Inlandia Institute

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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 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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