A literary grief memoir combined with a skillfully unfolded murder mystery.

THE HEART AND OTHER MONSTERS

A MEMOIR

An essayist looks back on her life and the circumstances surrounding her sister’s alleged overdose at age 24.

“I know what I am doing,” writes Andersen in the final third of the book. “I am curating her life. I take your hand and lead you through the blood and bile this story is made of….The unbearable note of grief still sings in my head. The melody of which you will never hear.” In a note to readers on the first page, we learn that the author suspects her sister, Sarah, was murdered, although she has no proof. Then Andersen leaves that idea behind, imagining her sister’s death as an accidental overdose, which is what both the police and the author believed when Sarah’s body was found locked in the bathroom of her boyfriend’s home, her dog wailing outside the door. As Andersen describes dealing with the logistics of the death and coping with her initial experiences of loss, she revisits her childhood, her troubled parents and stepfamilies, and her experience with cancer as a teen. Her own dark interlude with drugs and alcohol in her early 20s—“My worst lies happened when I was drinking and using coke…social lies, omissions, white lies, gray lies, kind lies, terrible lies”—eventually gave way to lasting sobriety through AA. The family story unfolds in brief, elegiac chapters illustrated with black-and-white snapshots. Gradually, Andersen begins to change the narrative, slipping in news stories about a seemingly unrelated murder, which, by the end, she has causally connected to her sister’s death. The revised facts are presented in a report made to the police, included near the end of the book. Combining the agonizing emotional intensity typical of narratives about losing a sibling with the memoiristic style of a murder investigation successfully complicates the reading experience.

A literary grief memoir combined with a skillfully unfolded murder mystery.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-514-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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