A chilling account of a livelihood spent curating the criminally psychotic.

BEHIND THE GATES OF GOMORRAH

A YEAR WITH THE CRIMINALLY INSANE

Board-certified psychiatrist Seager (Street Crazy: America's Mental Health Tragedy, 2000, etc.) recounts his 12 harrowing months at Northern California’s Napa State Hospital.

As a newcomer to the psychiatric facility, the author was immediately immersed in the drastic severity of the psychotic patients housed in “Unit C,” a compound with security rivaling that of San Quentin prison. After being assaulted within minutes, Seager began reconsidering his job decision, especially after learning that the unit’s previous psychiatrist was put in a coma after being attacked. Dubbed “Gomorrah,” the hospital ward soon lived up to its moniker as a house of violence not readily obvious from its manicured grounds. The author chronicles months of daily, terrifying patient interactions, which tested not only his personal fortitude, but his professionalism as a mental health caregiver. Though all had murder on their rap sheets, the scariest of Unit C’s 40 residents was hulking, unpredictable Bill McCoy, whom everyone feared most yet wouldn’t be policed for his in-house extortion due to the circuitous nature of the prison system (he’d only end up back at Napa State). Some patients wore paper Zorro masks and smeared feces on themselves, while others hid makeshift distillery contraptions in their closets or sold fermented fruit cocktail as prison alcohol; the remainder were a manageably maniacal lot with short tempers. Special events like Halloween proved bizarre; Thanksgiving dinners were somber, with minimal visitors (many residents had killed their own families). Though relentlessly unsettling and grim, there are spots of levity. Seager’s descriptions can be darkly humorous: On a particularly bad day, the author became “engulfed in a wave of hungry psychopaths eagerly churning their way to the cafeteria.” In the final chapter, the author urges citizens to become proactive in enacting legislation to change how state hospitals are run, thus increasing their safety quotients and those of the communities they serve.

A chilling account of a livelihood spent curating the criminally psychotic.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1476774497

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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