A captivating and insightful meditation on making a home among strangers.

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FRENCH DIVE

LIVING MORE WITH LESS IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

A big American family decamps to a tiny French apartment in this vibrant memoir.

In 2014, Wabash College English professor Freeze, the author of Invisible Men(2016), and his wife, Rixa, packed up their four kids, ages 1 through 7, and moved from Indiana to a 700-square-foot apartment in a 14th-century building in the French coastal city of Nice. Many Niçois were surprised that the couple had moved such a large clan to the cramped, touristy, overpriced city, but there were compensations, such as the bustling street life, gracious squares, and small stores; superb cheeses; and the pellucid blue Mediterranean. Much of the book recounts the family’s nest-building during a long renovation, assisted by a string of colorful construction workers; the narrative centerpiece is a hilariously surreal account of the Freezes’ appearance on the reality show House Hunters International, reenacting a grossly fictionalized, melodramatic version of the house hunting they’d done just months before. Threaded throughout are Freeze’s adventures in spearfishing as a way to get free food for his family, and the scenes of his epic dives depict both his intense guilt about “the violence of the thing I was prepared to do” and gripping, Hemingway-esque action as he stalks wary fish: “A roucaou finned its way toward me….It was still out of range but it didn’t seem to see me as a threat. It came closer. Three feet, two. My lungs were on fire.” Freeze’s limpid prose blends vivid travelogue and family portraiture with a defense of France’s simpler lifestyle, as well as a cleareyed critique of the country’s flaws, including racist treatment of African migrants: “Our benign and welcoming conversation with the immigration officer…was a stark contrast to the shouting matches and aggression that we heard in adjacent rooms.

A captivating and insightful meditation on making a home among strangers.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-72526-615-5

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Slant

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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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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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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