Brilliant and utterly transfixing.

MOTHERS, FATHERS, AND OTHERS

ESSAYS

Another outstanding compilation of essays from Hustvedt.

As in her previous standout collections, the author shares personal, familial stories as well as incisive ruminations on a breadth of literary, political, arcane, and germane subjects. These 20 essays and lectures, 12 of which have been previously published and/or delivered in some other version, were penned between 2017 and 2020. The first pieces are more biographical than those that follow. Early on, Hustvedt deftly chronicles her mother’s time in Nazi-occupied Norway as a student at the University of Oslo, her grandmother’s life in rural Minnesota, and her own burial plans. Although each essay is a stand-alone piece, their cumulative effect is staggering. Themes related to sexual hierarchies abound, whether the author is investigating Wuthering Heights, childhood patterning, or artist Louise Bourgeois. “The simple fact that every person begins inside another person haunts motherhood,” she writes. Throughout, Hustvedt questions maternal archetypes and ideology: “Mother ideas invade mothering with a stark morality of good and evil that rarely touches fathering”; “Pregnancy is a chimeric state, and the chimera is still a terrifying animal because it involves mixing”; [Misogyny] is a strange hate…because every human being was born from a woman or person with female reproductive organs”; “That the body, emotion, and nature have been associated with passive femininity, and the mind, reason, and culture with active masculinity is a given in the Western tradition.” The author, one of our most appealing literary polymaths, quotes innumerable resources, and she maintains a pleasingly nuanced balance between striking originality and intellectual synthesis. Pluralism also resonates as a topic relevant to both parenting and literature. “Human beings engage with a book, especially a novel, with an intimacy that does not pertain to most other inanimate objects. Reading is a form of ordinary possession of one person by another,” she writes, delineating why art cannot be confined to a fixed location nor books (like motherhood) to a single meaning.

Brilliant and utterly transfixing.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982176-39-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

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THE BEST OF ME

A welcome greatest-hits package from Sedaris.

It’s not easy to pick out fact from fiction in the author’s sidelong takes on family, travel, relationships, and other topics. He tends toward the archly droll in either genre, both well represented in this gathering, always with a perfectly formed crystallization of our various embarrassments and discomforts. An example is a set piece that comes fairly early in the anthology: the achingly funny “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” with its spot-on reminiscence of taking a French class with a disdainful instructor, a roomful of clueless but cheerful students, and Sedaris himself, who mangles the language gloriously, finally coming to understand his teacher’s baleful utterances (“Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section”) without being able to reply in any way that does not destroy the language of Voltaire and Proust. Sedaris’ register ranges from doggerel to deeply soulful, as when he reflects on the death of a beloved sibling and its effects on a family that has been too often portrayed as dysfunctional when it’s really just odd: “The word,” he writes, “is overused….My father hoarding food inside my sister’s vagina would be dysfunctional. His hoarding it beneath the bathroom sink, as he is wont to do, is, at best, quirky and at worst unsanitary.” There’s not a dud in the mix, though Sedaris is always at his best when he’s both making fun of himself and satirizing some larger social trend (of dog-crazy people, for instance: “They’re the ones who, when asked if they have children, are likely to answer, ‘A black Lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe’ ”). It’s a lovely mélange by a modern Mark Twain who is always willing to set himself up as a shlemiel in the interest of a good yarn.

One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-62824-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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