Bitter humor and painful honesty permeate this look back in anger 20 years to a summer spent by Mahoney (Whoredom in Kimmage: Irish Women Coming of Age, 1993, etc.) as domestic aide to Lillian Hellman, pictured here as conniving, hypocritical, abusive, and querulous in coping with age. Troubled by her father’s early death and her mother’s alcoholism, and insecure at boarding school, 17-year-old Mahoney began working as Hellman’s part-time live-in housekeeper-cook in her Martha’s Vineyard home, after the playwright replied positively to a fan letter/employment inquiry. However, Mahoney swiftly lost all illusions of receiving wisdom from a literary lion and surrogate mother as Hellman turned out to be more menace than mentor. While evoking compassion for Hellman’s struggles with blindness and physical frailty and candidly admitting her own inadequacies in the job, Mahoney more often catches her old boss in a glaring, pitiless light. Here, Hellman haggles with Mahoney over pay and time, scolds her for trivial or imagined mistakes, and speaks condescendingly of her large Irish-American family; she tries to impress guests James Taylor and Carly Simon by saying she smokes pot; and she gossips about or quarrels with friends Joe Alsop, Leonard Bernstein, and William and Rose Styron. Most shocking, Hellman, so publicly sympathetic to minority groups and labor, is depicted here as privately venting racial slurs and treating employees like indentured servants. A couple of times, Mahoney unexpectedly discovers Hellman naked’symbolic of how unadorned the author of An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time appears here without her own self-aggrandizing recollections. By devoting more space than necessary to her own family’s struggles, Mahoney lets her difficult but compelling antagonist shift out of focus at times. But even at these points, her graceful prose and pungent dialogue overcome this narrative ungainliness. In some ways, an unusually sharp magazine piece padded out to book length—but, nevertheless, a stylish memoir that recalls a legendary crusader caught with her armor down. (First serial to Vanity Fair and Elle)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-47793-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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