A pleasing memoir/essay collection.

IN THE KEY OF NEW YORK CITY

A MEMOIR IN ESSAYS

A transplant to Manhattan from North Carolina reflects on the blessings and bothers of living in the impersonal metropolis.

In her latest, McClanahan, a teacher in the Queen’s University MFA program and a winner of two Pushcart Prizes, explores many facets of the New York City experience, among other topics. She writes about how she tried to import some Southern hospitality and meet her neighbors with some home-baked cookies only to discover that her gesture had been taken as a gross invasion of privacy. Yet she learned to navigate her way: with strangers on a park bench, with the removal of a squirrel from her apartment, with a grieving city following 9/11. In “Present Tense,” the author ruminates on infidelities, including that of her second husband, Donald, about midway through its 25-year (and counting) span. The author also examines her place in the other position, as the mistress of a married man who was not going to leave his family. “Books tell us it takes about six months for the initial passion of an affair to cool,” writes McClanahan. “It took the man with the children a little more than six months; Donald, a bit less.” Since the preceding pieces are comparatively lighthearted snapshots of life in the big city, it’s even more powerful when what follows is an essay dealing with her cancer prognosis, surgery, and recovery. In “Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy,” McClanahan clearly demonstrates how quickly things can change and become a matter of life and death in the wake of what had seemed like a routine colonoscopy. In the penultimate essay, “Our Towns,” the author deftly connects the home that formed her with the one she has adopted. Discussing her viewing of a revival of Our Town featuring “Paul Newman’s first return to Broadway in nearly forty years,” she conjures memories of the play everyone remembered from high school and the towns where they had first experienced it.

A pleasing memoir/essay collection.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59709-850-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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