A closely observed account of both landscape and self.

BOYS AND OIL

GROWING UP GAY IN A FRACTURED LAND

Searching memoir of growing up gay in an uncomprehending place and family.

“Center is a place where people only end up,” writes poet and essayist Brorby. That little town—aptly named in standing nearly at the center of North Dakota, which in turn is nearly in the center of North America—is a place of taciturn farmers and bored teenagers, some of the latter of whom wind up dead, commemorated by roadside crosses “if they were nice.” Now a writer and environmental activist, Brorby was bookish and not terribly sports-minded, marking him for bullying, though he took to fly-fishing early on and loved the outdoors. “My classmates played video games,” he writes, “worked on the family ranch, and didn’t escape to the musical world of western meadowlarks and ring-necked pheasants.” Leaving Center for high school in the state capital and college and graduate school out of state provided an escape. All the while, the young author wrestled with identity and thoughts of suicide until landing on the answer that he would struggle to bring to his family: “I am gay—the shortest, most life-changing sentence a person can say. But it wasn’t really being seen by someone else that confirmed my gayness, it was my self-knowledge.” It was also, he learned, something his sister had long known and his grandparents readily accepted, though it was more difficult to negotiate a path to acceptance with his mother and father. In elegant chapters that often form stand-alone essays, we see Brorby easing into his own skin, acknowledging both the beauty and rough edges of his rural upbringing, and discovering that he is far from alone (he describes one small town as, perhaps improbably, “a gay Mecca”). In the end, he writes, “I no longer feel ashamed for the person I am,” a realization hard won over the course of a well-crafted narrative.

A closely observed account of both landscape and self.

Pub Date: June 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-324-09086-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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