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

GUESS AND CHECK

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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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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