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DO-OVER!

IN WHICH A FORTY-EIGHT-YEAR-OLD FATHER OF THREE RETURNS TO KINDERGARTEN, SUMMER CAMP, THE PROM, AND OTHER EMBARRASSMENTS

Far from generating epiphanies, these “renovations” merely reinforce how nice it is to be an adult.

A 48-year-old writer chronicles his goofball quest to correct the perceived failures of his youth.

Hemley (Nonfiction Writing/Univ. of Iowa; Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday, 2003, etc.) undertakes a dubious immersion-journalism project in the form of “do-overs.” These attempts to repair the major emotional traumas of his childhood and adolescence involve revisiting the sites of his worst failures, from kindergarten to high school, summer camp to standardized testing. He couldn’t even scrounge up a prom date. But you’d think his privileged adult existence—published author, father of three, university professor—might snuff out memories of botched grade-school plays and junior-high bullies. Hemley, however, insists that he’s still bothered by these trivialities. Too bad, then, that the book’s conceptual gimmickry yields little more than the occasional entertaining anecdote, the obvious fish-out-of-water comedy inherent in someone pushing 50 trying to pass for a five-year-old, and a fitfully amusing travelogue, as the author lumbers from Sewanee, Tenn., to Osaka, Japan, trying to enlist unfortunate souls from his past in his geeky time-travel fantasies. Of course, Hemley’s had real traumas that hang like a mist over this revisionist endeavor: an ugly divorce, his late sister Nola’s schizophrenia and his father’s death at 51. A few relevant observations cut through the “gee, they sure did things differently in my day!” remarks, as when Hemley contrasts contemporary kids’ structured, monitored and medicated lives with the dog-eat-dog anarchism that characterized his own youthful social experiences. But the do-over with the most potential for dramatic tension—going to the senior prom with his high-school crush—falls flat.

Far from generating epiphanies, these “renovations” merely reinforce how nice it is to be an adult.

Pub Date: May 20, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-02060-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2009

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NIGHT

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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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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