THE FACTS

A NOVELIST'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Roth—the most relentlessly and trickily autobiographical of major American novelists—now offers "to demythologize myself and play it straight, to pair the facts as lived with the facts as presented." This book was written, he says, in the wake of a 1987 nervous breakdown—"to transform myself into myself, I began rendering experience untransformed"—and it consists of five smallish memoirs for his life up to around age 35. . .plus a fine (and necessary) zinger of an epilogue. The first, very brief section is a quasi-idyllic view of growing-up Jewish in lower-middle-class, 1940's New Jersey: aware of anti-Semitism, but thriving on baseball, adolescent camaraderie with other Jewish-American kids, and reliable parents. (There's also a touching portrait of Roth's relationship today with his old, frail father.) Next comes "Joe College"—in which Philip eagerly goes away to college, to Bucknell; he joins in the clownish doings of a Jewish fraternity, edits an irreverent campus journal, and acquires a steady girlfriend (furtive sex, pregnancy panics). Then, in the ironically titled "Girl of My Dreams," Roth chronicles his long, turbulent affair with—and eventual marriage to—non-Jewish Josie, divorced mother of two, "raving within and stolildly blond without." For Roth (newly published, a U. of Chicago instructor/grad-student), this was a chance to prove his de-ghetto-ization and his gutsiness—"by dint of taming the most fearson female that a boy of my background might be unfortunate enough to meet on the erotic battlefield." The result, however, was a nightmare of abortions, quarrels, "a running feud focused on my character flaws," and a wedding-by-trickery that Roth later dramatized in My Life as a Man. The fourth chapter, "All in the Family," focuses on the Jewish anti-Roth furor triggered by his story "Defender of the Faith"; the "angry Jewish resistance that I aroused," he says, "was the luckiest break I could have had. I was branded"—and compelled to keep writing about Jews. So the final memoir inevitably involves the creation of the notorious Portnoy's Complaint—which grew out of Roth's ugly breakup and court battle with Josie, his psychoanalysis, a five-year relationship with another (gentler) "shiksa," and the stormy mood of the 1960's. All five sequences are crisp, ironically humorous, engagingly thoughtful. Yet there's a feeling throughout that Roth is tending to skim the surface, to smooth the edges, of some very raw, complicated material. And Roth himself must have shared that feeling—because the epilogue is a blistering 35-page review of the book by. . .Nathan Zuckerman, that irrepressible alter ego. Zuckerman finds the memoirs too "kind, discreet, careful" to be truthful; he mocks the idyllic "romance of your childhood," distrusts the portrait of Josie ("Everything you are today you owe to an alcoholic shiksa"), and wonders why Roth's sexual compulsions get so little attention, it's a slightly precious gimmick—but a neat, corrosive windup to a semi-absorbing semi-autobiography that raises as many questions as it answers.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 1988

ISBN: 0679749055

Page Count: 195

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1988

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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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