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SUNSHINE STATE

ESSAYS

An intimate journey reveals a Florida few visitors would ever discover.

Decidedly odd characters emerge in eight autobiographical essays.

Combining journalism and memoir, Gerard (Binary Star, 2015, etc.), a novelist, essayist, and columnist for the online journal Hazlitt, brings a sharp eye to recollections of growing up on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Notable for sharply drawn portraits, her essays depict a host of unusual, eccentric men and women. In “Mother-Father God,” the author introduces the earnest spiritual leader of the Unity-Clearwater congregation, a New Thought church, where, for more than a decade, her parents were devoted members. Church activities were omnipresent in her life, leading her to wonder, as an adult, why her parents joined, why they left, and how that early connection to the church shaped her. Gerard juxtaposes her parents’ biographies with a history of the New Thought movement, particularly Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science, that arose in late-19th-century America. Like those early followers, the author’s parents found in Unity-Clearwater “positive, reaffirming messages,” especially the message that “people are not punished for their sins but punished by their sins.” Gerard admits that she has been drawn to the church’s teaching that individuals create potential in the world by first believing in it. Maybe this ongoing belief in potential attracted her parents to become distributors for Amway, a sketchy marketing corporation accused of being a pyramid scheme. Their involvement, no less enthusiastic than in the church, is the subject of the partly fictionalized essay “Going Diamond,” featuring a portrait of Amway’s co-founder Richard DeVos, whose son is the husband of the current nominee for Secretary of Education. Another essay details, somewhat repetitively, the author’s high school years, marked by drugs, alcohol, sex, and, surprisingly, classical singing lessons. The title essay, although it also would have benefited from further editing, vividly portrays the bizarre director of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, where Gerard visited as a child and returned as a volunteer to conduct research. “The Mayor of Williams Park” offers an engaging profile of an unlikely activist working to ameliorate homelessness.

An intimate journey reveals a Florida few visitors would ever discover.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-243487-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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