A vivid, engaging, and engrossing collection from one of American literature’s great letter writers.


Famed for such chillers as “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson reveals a warm, witty side in her voluminous correspondence.

There’s still an edge to the hilarious domestic vignettes she sends her parents, clearly the raw material for the now less famous magazine pieces collected in Life Among the Savagesand Raising Demons: Tending to four rambunctious children while cranking out the magazine pieces and novels on which the family income depended was a perennial challenge. Husband Stanley Edgar Hyman, a professor at Bennington for most of his career, never made much money, and his urgings to Jackson to get back to work form a disquieting undercurrent to the generally cheerful letters. The earliest letters are her lovestruck missives to Hyman when both were students at Syracuse University, but an angry letter from 1938 reveals a darker side to their relationship, delineated in more explicit detail 22 years later. Her anguish over his unrepentant womanizing and habit of demeaning her in public while ignoring her in private makes a heartbreaking counterpoint to delightful portraits of family activities that also ring true but tell only part of the story. The dark side so evident in Jackson’s fiction is kept for her work, but we see its origins in a 1938 letter to Hyman declaring, “you know my rather passive misanthropic tendencies, and how i [sic] hate this whole human race as a collection of monsters.” Jackson’s avoidance of capital letters adds to her correspondence’s charmingly idiosyncratic flavor, though she adheres to more conventional punctuation in letters to her agents Bernice Baumgarten and Carol Brandt, which offer candid snapshots of a working writer’s life. Later letters chronicle without self-pity the years of declining physical and emotional health that preceded her untimely death at age 48 in 1965.

A vivid, engaging, and engrossing collection from one of American literature’s great letter writers.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13464-1

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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