From Publishers Weekly
In these nine autobiographical essays, most of which first appeared in the London Review of Books
, poet Kleinzahler (A Calendar of Airs
, etc.) writes from the perspective that an "unfriendly room" is a "sanctuary." Kleinzahler was the youngest of three children growing up in a Mafia-ridden New Jersey neighborhood in the 1950s. His father had an "unpredictable disposition" and his mother "didn't like children, least of all her own"; thus young Augie was raised, "in lieu of parents," by the family dog. Such challenging beginnings have forged a complex voice, both bitter ("The entire nation sucking from the same teat, a teat with a Nike swoosh and dripping Diet Coke") and lyrically meditative ("the morning's first streetcar comes out of the tunnel before dawn... this is my rough carillon"). A few of the book's early essays wander, failing to strike a balance between topic and tone, but Kleinzahler saves his strongest essays for the end. In "Eros & Poetry," he uses stunning examples, from Chaucer to Dylan Thomas, to prove how love and passion "awaken us to the pulse of poetry and dance...." And the final, eponymous piece is a moving elegy to Kleinzahler's older brother, a gambling homosexual gangster, who, in the 1970s, shared his secret life with the author as if to gain witness to—and record—his brief but extraordinary life.
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Kleinzahler's poetry, most recently collected in The Strange Hours Travelers Keep
[BKL N 15 03], is kinetic, flinty, sly, and pierced by longing. But its edgy energy provides few clues to the stunning vehemence, caustic wit, and gruff pathos of his autobiographical essays. Here Kleinzahler strips bare his comfortless New Jersey childhood as the son of a mother who disliked children and one of few Jews among many Italians. Astute, audacious, and adept, Kleinzahler is devastating in his characterizations and lyrical in his evocation of place as he tells painfully frank and hilarious tales of family, Jersey machismo, and the Mob; reports on adventures in his adopted home, San Francisco; recounts various journeys; and dissects the concept of Eros. Each bravado essay is breathtakingly provocative, but the collection's soul resides in the title piece, a lancing portrait of his late "born wild" older brother, who by day was a financial analyst and at night was a high-stakes gambler and bar-cruising gay partyer. Kleinzahler's unsparing essays glow with the threat and promise of the neon signs of all-night dives. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved