Krawiec once again plumbs the depths of despair among America's down-and-out in this gritty, powerful second novel. The battered drifters at the heart of his first book (Time Sharing, 1985) have been replaced by a hard-working husband and wife reduced to poverty by a series of calamities. The pair's eldest daughter, Katie, struck down by a mysterious neurological disorder at the age of six, is comatose and requires constant care. Although she is now nearing adolescence, Pat and Timmy have resisted institutionalizing her. The other families in their working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood shun Ellen, the younger daughter, fearful that Katie's illness is contagious. Timmy, out of work for a year, is desperate, angry, afraid. When he stages a mild demonstration at the unemployment office, a vindictive bureaucrat cuts off his benefits. Meanwhile, Pat, certain that she is in some way responsible for Katie's illness, consumed by guilt and by a desperate need to heal Katie, is sinking deeper and deeper into an incoherent anger that her family cannot penetrate. Krawiec describes these lives with sympathy but without condescension, re- creating their spare, often profane speech without making it seem either artificial or repellent. And he doesn't project extraordinary virtue onto his characters: They are well-meaning, often resourceful, frequently finding relief in bawdy humor, but they are also capable of meanness and deceit. The novel's sting, though, is lessened by a piling-on of horrors—so much happens to Timmy and Pat that the plot begins to feel repetitive and contrived. And a subplot about Timmy's involvement in a bungled attempt to kidnap the city's tough-talking mayor is jarring and unpersuasive. Still, Timmy, Pat, and Ellen are so vivid that they survive these lapses, and the modest, hard-won victories that provide the climax of this angry, exact, robust novel feel both believable and just.

Pub Date: March 20, 1996

ISBN: 1-888105-05-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1996



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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