Not as focused as Just Kids, but an atmospheric, moody, and bittersweet memoir to be savored and pondered.


Iconic poet, writer, and artist Smith (Just Kids, 2010, etc.) articulates the pensive rhythm of her life through the stations of her travels.

Spending much of her time crouched in a corner table of a Greenwich Village cafe sipping coffee, jotting quixotic notes in journals, and “plotting my next move,” the author reflects on the places she’s visited, the personal intercourse, and the impact each played on her past and present selves. She describes a time in 1978 when she planned to open her own cafe, but her plans changed following a chance meeting with MC5 guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, who swiftly stole and sealed her heart with marriage and children. A graceful, ruminative tour guide, Smith writes of traveling together with Fred armed with a vintage 1967 Polaroid to Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni in northwest French Guiana, then of solitary journeys to Frida Kahlo’s Mexican Casa Azul and to the graves of Sylvia Plath, Jean Genet, and a swath of legendary Japanese filmmakers. After being seduced by Rockaway Beach in Queens and indulgently purchasing a ramshackle bungalow there, the property was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy—though she vowed to rebuild. In a hazy, often melancholy narrative, the author synchronizes past memories and contemporary musings on books, art, and Michigan life with Fred. Preferring to write productively from the comfort of her bed, Smith vividly describes herself as “an optimistic zombie propped up by pillows, producing pages of somnambulistic fruit.” She spent seasons of lethargy binge-watching crime TV, arguing with her remote control, venturing out to a spontaneous and awkward meeting with chess great Bobby Fischer, and trekking off to interview Paul Bowles in Tangiers. No matter the distance life may take her, Smith always recovers some semblance of normalcy with the simplistic pleasures of a deli coffee on her Gotham stoop, her mind constantly buoyed by humanity, art, and memory.

Not as focused as Just Kids, but an atmospheric, moody, and bittersweet memoir to be savored and pondered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-87510-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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