Readers will enjoy Caldwell’s thoughtful, wide-eyed view of the world around her and her musings on how we get our bearings...

NEW LIFE, NO INSTRUCTIONS

A MEMOIR

Making the most of a new lease on life.

Caldwell (Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, 2010, etc.) has had a writing career intertwined with the writer Caroline Knapp (Drinking: A Love Story, 1997, etc.), as the two friends supported each other through challenges big and small. They’ve played roles in each other’s memoirs; this time, Knapp’s role is posthumous (she died in 2002) but no less important. Caldwell takes the death of her friend, lost to cancer, as one of three leaping-off points. She also deals with the deaths of both her mother and her dog, and while these three losses happen in a 10-year span, they comprise a loss of nearly all the closest companions she has known. “One of the things you miss after someone dies is the shared fact of you. The we of me,” she writes: “The existential anchor,” and as we know, without an anchor, there is drift. The author’s drift is our gain, though, as she ably explores the shifts of our hearts as we grieve. Her body underwent shifts as well; a case of polio from early childhood reared up again, leaving her barely ambulatory. While the heart’s ailments took longer to heal, at least in Caldwell’s case, science could assist the body. A common surgery, it turned out, could return her to full mobility; when it did, she experienced a renewed vigor in easing the emotional pain. She adopted a dog, wondering if she had waited long enough after her last dog passed away. As she explores the elastic boundaries of the heart in giving and taking new beings into our lives, she discusses her reconnection with the community around her.

Readers will enjoy Caldwell’s thoughtful, wide-eyed view of the world around her and her musings on how we get our bearings in midlife.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6954-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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 potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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