SIGNAL GRACE

A daughter remembers her father as memory combines with love and forgiveness to create a touching debut memoir. 

Yates, now in her early 30s, tells it like it is. Her family split by divorce—which happened when she was 3—and geography, she grew up yearning for connection. She and her father “never managed to be close, as fathers and daughters are supposed to be,” she recalls. “We didn’t giggle together or share little jokes, we didn’t really even see each other that often.” Her parents separately lived in various U.S. cities, and her father’s Army career meant international postings as well. Yates lived with her mother and younger brother, and she called her dad Michael: “When he was gone, I couldn’t think of him as ‘dad’ because it hurt too much to miss him.” Her yearned-for connection intensified when she lived with her father during her senior year at Incarnate Word High School in San Antonio, Texas. After her own brief marriage, while still a student Texas A&M, violently blew up, her father helped her file legal protection orders, but she still felt alone: “I had, quite simply, no idea what constituted a good man.” Despite the chaos—which Yates describes in graceful, readable prose—she began noticing hopeful signs. “There is a name. Catholics call it a ‘signal grace.’ It’s a sign that God’s listening to you and directing you all the time. You see these moments by the grace of God. It indicates that you’re on the right path and that God is helping and guiding you.” Her sign is a shamrock, and after Michael’s death in 2010, unexpected shamrock-sightings comforted her: “I was flooded, over and through, by gratitude and forgiveness; they rinsed away the grime of mistakes and judgment like a baptism, and made me feel radiant in flowing peace.” Cynics might be quick to lump this life story in with the recent glut of early age memoirs, but better than most, this story achingly portrays a family severed by divorce and encourages the healing of hearts. Yates keeps a strict focus on the father-daughter dynamic, and the “signal grace” idea is only brought toward the end, so it shouldn’t deter casual, irreligious readers. A well-crafted, compelling account of how one confused little girl grew up and learned to live with her past by seeing signs of God’s grace.

 

Pub Date: June 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989223201

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

THIS IS SHAKESPEARE

A brisk study of 20 of the Bard’s plays, focused on stripping off four centuries of overcooked analysis and tangled reinterpretations.

“I don’t really care what he might have meant, nor should you,” writes Smith (Shakespeare Studies/Oxford Univ.; Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 2016, etc.) in the introduction to this collection. Noting the “gappy” quality of many of his plays—i.e., the dearth of stage directions, the odd tonal and plot twists—the author strives to fill those gaps not with psychological analyses but rather historical context for the ambiguities. She’s less concerned, for instance, with whether Hamlet represents the first flower of the modern mind and instead keys into how the melancholy Dane and his father share a name, making it a study of “cumulative nostalgia” and our difficulty in escaping our pasts. Falstaff’s repeated appearances in multiple plays speak to Shakespeare’s crowd-pleasing tendencies. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a bawdier and darker exploration of marriage than its teen-friendly interpretations suggest. Smith’s strict-constructionist analyses of the plays can be illuminating: Her understanding of British mores and theater culture in the Elizabethan era explains why Richard III only half-heartedly abandons its charismatic title character, and she is insightful in her discussion of how Twelfth Night labors to return to heterosexual convention after introducing a host of queer tropes. Smith's Shakespeare is eminently fallible, collaborative, and innovative, deliberately warping play structures and then sorting out how much he needs to un-warp them. Yet the book is neither scholarly nor as patiently introductory as works by experts like Stephen Greenblatt. Attempts to goose the language with hipper references—Much Ado About Nothing highlights the “ ‘bros before hoes’ ethic of the military,” and Falstaff is likened to Homer Simpson—mostly fall flat.

A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4854-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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