Melancholy and familial devotion imbue a nuanced, poignant portrait.



A son’s search for his mother.

In 1991, award-winning novelist Morton fictionalized his mother in his first novel, The Dylanist. "Her eccentricities, he admits, “made it hard for me to resist a comic portrayal”—a portrayal that wounded her. Now, after her death, Morton tries to understand how she became the stubborn, overbearing woman who blighted his emotional life. When she was younger, he knew, she had been defiant and determined; at 16, she left home and changed her name from Esther to Tasha, “partly because she liked the sound and partly because it wasn’t the name of anyone she knew.” Tasha became the first copy girl at the Daily Worker, and she also worked for the United Office and Professional Workers of America, where she met the man she would marry. When he dallied in proposing, she took off to a kibbutz for six months. Married at last and with two young children, she returned to school to earn a graduate degree in education, going on to become an innovative teacher and active school board member. Yet after her husband died suddenly in 1984, she started hoarding—filling her house with the “detritus of her despair”—and sank into depression, the depths of which she confessed to her diary. She felt, Morton realized, “as if she loved us more than any of us loved her.” After a stroke and increasing dementia made it impossible for her to care for herself at home, Morton and his sister tried to find support for her only to discover the dearth of resources for the elderly and their vulnerability to abuse. The author’s revised portrayal of Tasha is both comic and tender. He recounts frustrating, absurd conversations and discovers, as well, “a life that was devoted to making a contribution. What I see is the life of a woman who gave of herself as fully as she could.” His affecting memoir reveals a desperate woman railing against indignities and loneliness and a son powerless to assuage her pain.

Melancholy and familial devotion imbue a nuanced, poignant portrait.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982178-93-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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 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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


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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