These stylistic tics, along with strained comparisons with the subjects of Callow’s other biographies, suggest that the...

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LOUIS

A LIFE OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Another literary biography from an English novelist who has taken on Chekhov, Lawrence, and Whitman in the past.

Callow (Chekhov, 1998, etc.) tracks the Scotsman’s peregrinations through Britain, Europe, the US, and the South Seas, and he is concerned with the character of the man rather than sources or significance of his work. Stevenson’s stiff but devoted father Thomas gets a good deal of attention, as does his strong-willed, erratic American wife Fanny Osbourne Stevenson, who alienated most (though not all) of the writer’s literary pals in London. This is clearly a labor of love, and the reader cannot help but share the biographer’s fascination with the vagaries of this peripatetic, sickly rebel, his unexpected toughness, and his uncanny charm; but, as Callow points out in his preface, there has been no dearth of Stevenson biographies, and the point of this particular contribution is, to put it charitably, difficult to fathom. He claims to be debunking the myth that surrounds his subject—without clearly stating just what that myth consists of—yet most of his commentary is in fact directed at defending RLS from his detractors and caviling at his critics (notably Bruce Chatwin, whose motivations regarding Stevenson are dissected more effectively than any of Stevenson’s own decisions). Even more confusing than his approach to his subject is his attitude toward his readers. Callow avers that his study is meant for “the intelligent reader with no specialized knowledge,” yet he alludes to events in Stevenson’s life and often quite obscure people in his circle as though they were already familiar. Knowledgeable RLS students will find no new information and very little in the way of a coherent, original perspective on the man; newcomers to Stevenson will get no introduction either to his work or to the world of Victorian letters and manners from which he was in constant flight. The tone veers irritatingly between scholarly journalism, popular biography, and belle-lettristic musing; his sentences and paragraphs on the other hand are consistently packed with redundancies and non sequiturs.

These stylistic tics, along with strained comparisons with the subjects of Callow’s other biographies, suggest that the author is addressing no audience other than himself.

Pub Date: April 6, 2001

ISBN: 1-56663-343-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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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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UNTAMED

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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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