Honest and painful. Readers inclined to lament their own circumstances may brighten up when considering the odds Ollison has...

SOUL SERENADE

RHYTHM, BLUES & COMING OF AGE THROUGH VINYL

An elegiac look at a childhood marked by violence, dysfunction, poverty, sorrow—and plenty of good music.

Little Rock native Ollison, former Baltimore Sun pop critic and now a writer for the Virginian-Pilot, opens this memoir with a horrific incident that unfolds like a Greek tragedy, its sad climax the death by bullet of a tiny young sibling, “bow lips parted and baby-doll eyes flung open,” in the arms of the girl who would become his mother. Unhappy memory builds on unhappy memory: there is the brief, shining courtship, then a father who will disappear and appear and disappear again, “often in the streets when he wasn’t nodding off at home or having nightmares that made him scream and jump in bed,” along with a mother who finds no need to express love as long as she puts food on the table, a scary grandmother whose face bore “its usual fuck-you expression,” and a community of children inclined to bewilderment in the face of all that adult confusion. Much of Ollison’s memoir, reminiscent at many turns of Claude Brown’s classic Manchild in the Promised Land (1965), turns on the quest for identity: when his schoolmates shout “faggot,” there’s more at play than they might have realized. But more, what shapes identity and offers hope and even love are the records that Ollison spins, left behind by his father and picked up along the way: Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Tyrone Davis, Stevie Wonder, and, of more recent vintage, Mary J. Blige (“the wounded warrior voice of my generation”). So powerful are Ollison’s responses to music that readers might wish that he addressed the matter in more circumstantial detail, if at least for dramatic relief from his descriptions of passing events that are often ponderously awful.

Honest and painful. Readers inclined to lament their own circumstances may brighten up when considering the odds Ollison has overcome.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0807057520

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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