A stark, engrossing, Hemingway-esque portrait of a life spent in the margins.


Rutkowski (Haywire, 2010, etc.) delivers a new short story collection, offering sparse prose and pointed observations about one man’s struggle to connect with others.

Born to a serious Chinese immigrant mother and a blustery Polish-American father, the narrator navigates his life with trepidation and uncertainty. To an extent, his childhood in the Appalachians as a young, aspiring artist complements this wariness, as it provides plenty of room for him to explore the great forests, trails, and streams of his home—and the canvasses of his mind. On the other hand, he’s an outsider in most other areas of his life, finding it difficult to relate to other people. His attempts to make friends, find love, and understand those closest to him all seem to fall flat. Later, he discovers a letter from his paternal grandfather, addressed to his parents: “You might love each other now….But think about your children. What will life be like for them? They won’t have friends…and they won’t understand why.” His father is an artist, an alcoholic, and a self-styled revolutionary, while his mother is a grounded woman of numbers and sums who deals with her spouse’s abusive temperament, knowing from experience how much more difficult life can be. Rutkowski shows how the narrator carries his feeling of being between two worlds throughout his life, grappling with questions of family and race, art and science, dreams and reality. Every chapter presents a new vignette, each as tight and condensed as the best flash fiction. Terse, observational prose points out the bare facts of each new situation, above all else. And as each tale moves through new phases in the narrator’s life, there’s always more to discover. The characters are subtly drawn through small, thoughtfully rendered details—the father’s love of Mao and Lenin, the mother’s inability to get anyone to use the children’s Chinese names. These moments make even the shortest snippets stick in one’s mind long after the pages have turned.

A stark, engrossing, Hemingway-esque portrait of a life spent in the margins.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-940724-11-9

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Gival Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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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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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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