A biography with narrative muscle and thrilling historical relevance.


O’Faolain, mistress of the memoir (Almost There, 2003, etc.), meets her match in fellow Irishwoman Chicago May, feisty turn-of-the-century feminist and queen of crooks.

O’Faolain’s biography of May Duignan, who fled County Longford, Ireland, for New York in 1890, is as much about the author, her beleaguered Irish clan and the tribulations of Irish emigration as it is about her notorious subject. O’Faolain manages to weave the destiny of an entire people into the flight of auburn-haired, buxom 19-year-old May, from her impoverished home in Edenmore, as her mother was delivering yet another baby the family could ill afford to raise. May fled with the family’s savings; the fugitive booked cabin class to New York, rather than steerage, in the first of her devil-may-care acts that would come to characterize her in the new world. From Nebraska, where she supposedly had an uncle, to cities teeming with vice such as Chicago and New York, as well as cities overseas, she capitalized on her good looks by learning quickly how to make a sucker of an admirer, and soon excelled as a “badger” in luring men into rooms where they would be fleeced. Flush from her prostitution earnings, ruthless May—“the tart who could bite diamonds out of tie-pins”—fell in with safe-cracker Eddie Guerin, and their American Express heist in Paris proved her eventual downfall. O’Faolain quotes extensively from May’s end-of-life, picaresque 1928 autobiography, Chicago May, Her Story, which the author found in the New York Public Library. Employing her own autobiographical skills and intimacy with Irish sob stories (see Are You Somebody?, 1998), O’Faolain speculates endlessly on May’s motivation and intention, tracking years of brutal incarceration, fly-by-night grifting and illness, ending in May’s heartbreaking “disillusion with the act of autobiography itself.”

A biography with narrative muscle and thrilling historical relevance.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2005

ISBN: 1-57322-320-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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

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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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