An engaging cautionary tale; those who’ve had their own relationship struggles will relate and may even realize that they...

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Marriages, Divorces and A Crossbow

CUPID'S ARROW MISSED THE TARGET

A debut memoir focusing on a woman’s troubled marriages.

Van Sant’s memoir opens with her in jail. She believes she’s being charged with aggravated battery, but at the sentencing hearing, she learns she’s being charged with attempted murder. While she lets readers know that the victim is an ex-husband, she saves the rest of the details for later. After describing her desperate situation in jail, Van Sant recounts her life story, beginning with a somewhat troubled childhood thanks in part to her alcoholic father. A pregnancy at age 20 helped spur her into marrying her boyfriend. Having never cooked a meal or washed a load of laundry, the young wife found herself in over her head, but it was her husband’s habit of sowing his wild oats that brought about the marriage’s end. For the author, that began a pattern of marriages that didn’t work out. Abuse, both mental and physical, men who rely on her to pay the bills, and an ex-husband who kidnaps their infant daughter and runs away to Canada are just some of the issues with which she had to contend. Thanks to Van Sant’s colorful life and the characters she ends up marrying, the memoir is free of dull moments. While readers will likely cringe at some of the decisions she made, including the one that landed her in jail, she remains a sympathetic figure whom readers will want to see find the right path. The occasional clunky sentence and some interesting word choices interrupt the memoir’s conversational style. For instance, several times the word “rotated” is used in place of “turned”—“As she entered our living room, he rotated to the three of us”—and some sentences have a lawyerly ring to them: “The holidays soon arrived with no favorable result in regards to my marriage.” Nevertheless, the strong narrative voice and the compelling story overcome these distractions.

An engaging cautionary tale; those who’ve had their own relationship struggles will relate and may even realize that they don’t have it as bad as they thought.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492378846

Page Count: 214

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2013

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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