A how-to-talk-to-the-bereaved compendium that delivers some familiar advice.

BREAKING SAD

WHAT TO SAY AFTER LOSS, WHAT NOT TO SAY, AND WHEN TO JUST SHOW UP

Two debut editors collect thoughts on processing grief in this anthology.

It’s hard to know what to say when offering consolation. When someone you know has lost a spouse or close family member, the same pat responses always seem to come out of your mouth. “Twice before, I’d stood beside parents on the day of a child’s death, a witness to the awkward ballet of distraught looks, too-tight hugs, and tear-choked words that attend shattering loss,” writes Fisher in her introduction. “I’d heard fumbling attempts to comfort that surely only deepened the pain of the bereaved.” This book’s stated purpose is to help readers be better friends to the grievers in their lives. Fisher and Jones solicited short pieces—both poems and prose—from writers who had lost someone close to them. Some deal with the nature of sorrow itself while others focus more directly on the ways that other people treated the contributors during their mourning periods. In the poem “10 Things I Would Tell You if You Were Still Here,” Jami Kahn writes that “people keep asking me how i’m doing, like you were a sprained ankle or a broken nail. i tell them i have phantom limb syndrome, and they just frown, like i’m hopeless. (maybe they’re right.)” In the short essay “In Search of Peace,” Setareh Makinejad tells how she rebuked relatives who attempted to get her to stop wearing black after the death of her daughter. In addition to the pieces, these contributors answered questions about the best and worst things people said during their moments of anguish. As in all anthologies, the individual items are hit-or-miss. The tragic topic may forgive the frequent incidents of sappy and otherwise poor writing, but the reader wonders why the editors included so many works that don’t really have anything to do with the interactions between the still living. The survey questions are more useful, given the book’s worthy objective. While they present a few helpful tips, the participants are so similar in their advice (listen, bring food, hang out, don’t make it about yourself) that the text quickly becomes repetitive, providing few surprises.

A how-to-talk-to-the-bereaved compendium that delivers some familiar advice.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63152-242-0

Page Count: 280

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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