A pleasing memoir/essay collection.

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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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