A life-changing revelation, but the emotional struggle isn’t engaging.

MIND GAMES

After discovering he’s adopted, an epileptic, soon-to-be-married journalist clashes with his brother in Payne’s novel.

David Carter, a journalist for the Guardian, suffers from epilepsy. Engaged and living with his fiancée, Susan, David doesn’t always see eye to eye with his brother, Matthew, but he enjoys the company of his brother’s children. David’s epilepsy is a source of frustration in his life, as is his overbearing boss and his mother and father’s lavish family parties. On a train trip to Cardiff, Wales, Matthew is provoked by David, so he finally reveals that David is adopted. Being a journalist, David can’t help but attempt to find his real mother, Elizabeth. He discovers she’s in poor health and, during her prostitution days, was once involved with David’s father, a violent criminal. Heartbroken, David’s epilepsy becomes worse; he has strange dreams and frequently falls asleep in public. Finally, David has an ominous dream involving his brother, which comes to fruition. Payne opens the book with a synopsis that summarizes the entire story and introduces the bare-bones style of writing. Strangely—perhaps to plant the question of whether the author is in fact playing “mind games” with the reader—the synopsis references a car crash in which David is said to have had an epileptic attack that landed him in the hospital for several months; yet this plot point is never mentioned again in the story. The stiff dialogue can feel forced at times: Susan says to David, “Don’t let Elizabeth’s character defeat you. Remember who you are and your real status in society, as a well-known and popular journalist.” The characters’ one-dimensional emotions reinforce the book’s flat, third-person delivery, particularly with David’s unjustifiably angry and loud outbursts.

A life-changing revelation, but the emotional struggle isn’t engaging.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477218785

Page Count: 152

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2013

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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