LAST WATCH OF THE NIGHT

ESSAYS TOO PERSONAL AND OTHERWISE

Although novelist, memoirist, and poet Monette (Becoming a Man, 1992, etc.) is sometimes vituperative, his language is always sharp in these essays. It is only when he falls away from criticism that his prose thickens and slows down. In ``Puck,'' Monette writes in a seemingly benign way about his dog, but it soon becomes apparent that he is communicating something about himself through his unusually unsentimental relationship with the animal. ``Gert'' describes an elderly lesbian whom Monette befriends, and his admiration for and puzzlement over the elegant manner in which she both reveals and conceals her sexuality. Monette scathingly attacks the Pope in several of these essays, but ``My Priests'' describes the few men of the cloth he actually admires. They include a Catholic priest named Gambone, who left the order after his lover died of AIDS, and Brother Toby, who has organized a lay Catholic community for children with AIDS that sells Christmas trees to raise money. Monette describes his impromptu wedding ceremony, which was officiated by a New Age woman called Ma; Monette skeptically calls her ``the Auntie Mame of gurus,'' but he also respects the ``bluesy sort of comfort'' she brings to her many HIV-positive followers. In ``3275,'' Monette manages to avoid emotionalism even while describing different graves he has known (those of lovers and those of the famous). He constantly—and effectively—undercuts the material's saccharine potential with passages like ``Are you reeling from the mawkishness? Because it gets worse.'' Occasionally this incisiveness is lost. ``A One-Way Fare,'' an examination of the importance of different journeys he has made, drifts off into travelogue about halfway through, and the dissection of insomnia in ``Sleeping Under a Tree'' is less than involving. A mix of the personal and the political with the occasional misstep.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-15-100071-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1994

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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