PORTRAIT OF MY BODY by Phillip Lopate

PORTRAIT OF MY BODY

Personal Essays

KIRKUS REVIEW

 At once intimate and objective, Lopate's (Bachelorhood, 1981, etc.) further personal essays meander through the latest stages of his life, continuing their sophisticated, witty explorations of it. If Lopate's contemporary interest in pushing at the first-person essay's ``thin line between the charming and the insufferable'' marks him as a literary performer, his writing here still keeps one foot in the impartial, searching tradition of Montaigne and Hazlitt. Picking up his life where his last collection of autobiographical essays, Against Joie de Vivre (1989), left off, and focusing on his recent preoccupations with fathers, father figures, and paternity, these essays nicely juggle meditative themes with autobiographical disclosure. Lopate calculatedly adopts a self-centered persona to give himself some creative distance, but this first-person camouflage doesn't conceal his genuine concerns with emotional isolation and egoism. The persona entertainingly takes center stage in his confessions about his irritable vacations, his schoolmarmish movie-going manners, and his baffled, superrogatory role in his daughter's birth. It also provides a revealing, slightly warped mirror in such pieces as the title essay, a droll, frank, gossipy tour of the author's anatomy. There are also more serious reflections on the role of the mentor in literary life, as well as a somewhat unoriginal but still provocative essay on guilt-policed Holocaust obsession. At his best, he plays himself off against other personalities: his aged father, former colleague Donald Barthelme, and fellow writer Anatole Broyard, with subtle and moving disclosures on both sides. Caring for his doddering father, he painfully reacquaints himself with the solipsistic obstinacy they share and his reactions to it. (``We spend most of our adulthoods trying to grasp the meanings of our parents' lives; and how we shape and answer these questions largely turns us into who we are.'') A mature voice honestly and humorously addressing a variety of universals through carefully observed particulars.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-47710-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996




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