Waiting on the Outside


A mother describes her son’s descent into drugs, crime, and prison.

In this debut book, the author tells readers that the story is true, but the names of people and some places have been changed to protect the privacy of the involved parties. Grodzinsky employs a narrator, named Julie Jamison, who recounts her soul-deadening experiences with her son. Adopted at 6 weeks old, Michael acts up in school after Julie and her husband divorce. She remarries, but Michael fights with his stepbrothers, drinks, indulges in drugs, and steals. As a teen, he’s shot and hospitalized. He later pulls a knife on his stepfather, ends up in juvenile hall, and receives a diagnosis of “conduct disorder.” Skinheads become his new family, although he also impregnates and marries a couple of women, who hastily leave with their babies. Busted for dealing drugs in California, Michael’s sentenced to rehab and arrested again, this time in Las Vegas, for check forging. He lands in prison, enduring hardships and joining the Aryan Warriors for protection, while his mother deals with the petty rules the guards impose on visitors, who feel like inmates. After he’s paroled, Michael lands a job and buys a house. But he’s busted again for criminal activities with the Warriors, sentenced to 12-plus years in prison, and moved around the country, making family visits difficult. As her son turns 40, Julie learns of a great-granddaughter she never knew about. Although many of the ugly facts of prison life should be familiar to readers, this book provides a stirring personal account of the frustrations of dealing with a disturbed son and a system where recidivism rates run 70 to 80 percent. It’s impossible to say whether nature or nurture lies at the root of Michael’s troubles, but the author points out that privatization of prisons is a major cause of the facilities’ failures. Grodzinsky doesn’t delve into these issues too deeply. What comes through clearly is her narrator’s love, guilt, frustration, and hopelessness in the face of her son’s intractable problems and a corrupt, sick network unable to assist him. As the author notes, it makes no sense to house a man in prison for $15,000 to $60,000 a year and then spend “almost nothing” to help him adapt and survive upon release. A tragic and moving story of a dysfunctional son and society’s inability to offer aid.

Pub Date: May 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5116-8214-5

Page Count: 158

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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