Unflinching, hard-charging feminist criticism.

DEAD BLONDES AND BAD MOTHERS

MONSTROSITY, PATRIARCHY, AND THE FEAR OF FEMALE POWER

A deep dive into misogyny in popular culture, from timeless myth to contemporary horror flicks.

The second book by feminist commentator Doyle (Trainwreck: The Women We Love To Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, 2016) is wide-ranging but operates from a simple premise: Western culture tends to perceive women as unruly monsters who can’t be trusted as girls, wives, or mothers. In exorcisms—and, by extension, the horror classic The Exorcist—Doyle observes a cultural urge to barricade girls from puberty and sexual independence. She draws a throughline from Celtic myth to Romantic poets to true-crime touchstones like the Laci Peterson case, showing how each represents a fear of women and urge to bring them to heel. In the case of serial killer Ed Gein (the inspiration for a host of horror tales, Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs most famously), Doyle notes how the blame for his actions often shifts to his mother, routinely portrayed as “fanatically religious, permanently enraged, a castrating, sexless, son-warping harpy.” The author sometimes approaches her source material, particularly movies, with wit and humor: She revels in rooting for the momma T. Rex in Jurassic Park and roasts Ben Kingsley’s turn in the terrible sci-fi film Species, as he “visibly chokes down every line of dialogue with a barely contained rage that says ‘I played Gandhi, damn it.’ ” But Doyle recognizes how much of our misogynistic, transphobic cultural id is revealed in our trashiest cultural products, and she never loses sight of how the social norms they promote have led to feelings of fear and entrapment at best and countless deaths at worst. The author’s accounting of the death of Anneliese Michel, the inspiration for The Exorcist, is especially chilling. A lengthy appendix serves as both a casebook of her sources and a recommendation list for further research both high (Julia Kristeva) and low (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

Unflinching, hard-charging feminist criticism.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61219-792-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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