An excellent start to understanding a writer and her work.

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A MEMOIR WITH SELECTED PHOTOGRAPHS AND LETTERS

Tantalizing glimpses into the life of a recently-discovered writer.

More than a decade after Berlin (1936-2004) died, A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories was published, and she began to find readers (Manual was a finalist for the 2015 Kirkus Prize). In a biographical note that first appeared in Manual, Stephen Emerson writes that Berlin lived a "rather flamboyant existence." This book is certainly evidence of that. The first part is an unfinished memoir chronologically organized by the places she lived, with photographs from her son. It’s the story of a child, then woman, who lived an itinerant existence. Born in Alaska to a father who had to travel for work, the family moved to Idaho and then Kentucky, Montana, Idaho, Texas, and elsewhere. Berlin describes each home in exquisite, imagistic language, providing insights into how her unique writing style evolved. In Helena, a man’s cabin is “an unpainted hut, really, with windows that looked like eyes and a door that was a goofy crooked smile.” In a list of more than 30 of her residences, she crisply describes each—e.g., “House Edward Abbey had lived in. Only one burner worked. Filthy.” And later: “No catastrophe. So far.” A lengthy stay in Santiago, Chile, where she learned Spanish, went well, but her life was filled with hardship, alcoholism, drunken and addicted husbands, and money problems. There’s very little here about her reading and writing, but clearly, the life lived is the inspiration for her stories. The second part contains letters written from 1944 to 1965 revealing a conflicted, anguished young writer. Most are to friend and mentor Ed Dorn, the Black Mountain School poet. In college, she wrote Dorn about sudden ambitions, and in the same letter, “I’m just so fouled up.” In 1960: “I am so miserable. I have never been so afraid and unhappy….I believe…I am a writer…even believe that I am a good one.”

An excellent start to understanding a writer and her work.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-28759-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Critics Circle 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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