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Death at Breakfast: A Novel
Death at Breakfast: A Novel
by Beth Gutcheon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.06
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much too well written for a mystery!, May 12, 2016
For the first few pages, “Death at Breakfast” reminded me of an eccentric English mystery, "Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death." Here’s Maggie Detweiler, a headmistress recently retired after 23 years of service at a boarding school. Here’s Hope Babbin, her upper crust friend.
Here is the Oquossoc Mountain Inn in Maine, just after the end of the summer season. And here is the weeklong cooking class that has brought Maggie and Hope to Maine. Whatever “mystery” occurs, you expect it to be posh and grammatically correct.
Hope and Maggie had taken rooms recommended by Trip Advisor. They looked forward to long walks. Jigsaw puzzles. Apple martinis. And the cooking course given by the chef, “whose food was winning some attention on luxury travel blogs.” All is in readiness for a quiet week. Good luck with that.
Other guests arrive, and of course some of them are gauche. We meet the staff. And there is a death: a suicide, in California, of a Gaga/Winehouse type singer — the daughter of the gauche guest. Ever try to get a rent-a-jet to escape Maine? Such problems!
The desk clerk, on the verge of being fired, quits in a huff, rips off her uniform and stalks off “in her blouse and ragged slip, through which you could see her magenta thong underpants.” There had been hints of style earlier and a sense that Gutcheon wasn’t playing by the Rules of Mystery. Now there were more. The Jigsaw puzzle is of Bosch’s painting, “Ship of Fools.” A lawyer who’s not clever enough to click out of online solitaire when clients arrive. A suicide on a Hamptons beach. The Hotel Bel-Air. The Buckley School. The Maidstone.
Oh, and then there’s another death, this time at the inn. On the victim’s night table: “The Brothers Karamazov.” Whodunnit? The identity of the killer seems obvious. And obviously wrong.
Clever dialogue? Lots. The laconic locals get the best lines. But there’s also pleasure in such high-low lines like “I think your prom date’s reaction will be shock and awe” and “a woman so thin she looked made from bicycle parts.”

The murder — there are some aspects that complicate the investigation and create more suspects. I didn’t guess the identity of the killer, but then, I never do. You might. But it really seems secondary to the pleasure of watching Beth Gutcheon make her characters dance.

The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
by Paul Lisicky
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.36
77 used & new from $4.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't expect to read a better memoir this year., February 22, 2016
“The best book about friendship I’ve ever read.” That’s what I wrote, some years ago, about "Let’s Take the Long Way Home", Gail Caldwell’s memoir of her friendship with Caroline Knapp. Two writers, private in the important ways, both triumphantly sober — and then Caroline was diagnosed with cancer and died, seven weeks later, at 42. Caldwell’s writing is restrained, but no matter. Her book rips your heart out.

“The Narrow Door” is just as good. But much more complicated. When Paul Lisicky meets Denise Gess in the early 1980s, he’s 23, a fledgling writer, a graduate student at Rutgers. She’s 30, a teaching assistant, author of a much-praised novel, Good Deeds. Their professional differences are the least of it. He’s an introvert, in the closet, nervous in the classroom. She’s open, inspiring, the kind of teacher who collects disciples. And yet they become close friends, “a little bit in love… and not able to say it.”

All this changes over the years. She has an affair with a Famous Writer (John Irving), who spurns her; he has an affair with a Famous Writer (Mark Doty), and marries him. His books get published; hers have trouble finding a home. And then there is the not small matter of her personality. Her smile “could turn diamonds to black powder,” but Denise is also contentious, redlining emotion on a calm day — at some point, she’d make Jesus look for the exit.

And, of course, she dies. Lung cancer, brain cancer, even cancer in her heart. But on the way to that slow, painful death, she is fiercely herself — that is, emotional and grateful. Which is where the book starts: Election Night, 2008, a few months before her death. We’re in Philadelphia, in Denise’s final apartment, the one she moved to because she could no longer climb the stairs. Here’s the first paragraph:

"Our feet are warm. Our faces shine. The room is getting dark, the night coming a little sooner these days. Should I turn on a lamp? Then the prospect of dinner changes our placement toward that dark. The chicken stew on the trivet. The moist leaves in the hard black bowl. The macaroni and cheese still bubbling, although it’s long been out of the oven. For a moment, we’re no longer eight years into the new century, in Philadelphia, in a loft apartment that’s too big for us, but inside a cave, a tight, sweet space. We give our joints and muscles over to the heat of it, the spell, the hearth at the center of things. Our gestures say, we’re here for you, time. We’re all right with you. We’re not straining against your grasp. No concerns about the side effects of the latest round of chemo earlier in the day. No cheering on the small miracle of the meal, the first meal she’s cooked since July’s diagnosis. No anxieties about the election, the results of which will crackle across the country, throughout the world. No steroids, no PET scans, no CAT scans, no ports, no hoods, no wigs, no hair coming out in wads—none of it. We are the four points of the clock: her mother at three, her sister at six, me at nine, Denise at midnight. See how we hold that clock in place? Nothing but us now, one breath, one body in the room. This table, this bread, these forks lifting again and again to our mouths."

Gorgeous, say I. And so does Jennifer Senior, in The New York Times: “She glows on the page, looking for all the world like a woman who’s swallowed the moon.”

After dinner? Denise gets up and dances. “Not a timid dancing, but a life-large, goofy, it’s-great-to-be-in-my-skin dancing.” That shift in mood mirrors the book’s shifts in time. “The Narrow Door” jumps around, but not in an arty or “literary” way. It’s how Lisicky seems to remember Denise. Listening to Joni Mitchell, and then a digression on Joni. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the earthquake in Haiti. And a parallel story, set against Denise’s bewildering kaleidoscope of love affairs: Paul’s evolution as a lover and then husband. And then…but let’s leave Paul’s story there.

Beyond the pleasure of reading a book that is exemplary, start to finish, what’s in “The Narrow Door” for you? Simply this: What’s the condition of your friendships? How are you getting on with the people who are most important to you? Are you close? Are you drifting apart? In one incisive paragraph, Lisicky describes a scenario we know:

"Losing a lover: You don’t need to be told how hard it is… It’s different with a friend. The breaking up is more diffuse, though breakup isn’t even the right word for it. Whatever it is, it happens over time, and soon old patterns are breaking: no email in the morning, no phone call at night. A week goes by, silence. Another week, a deeper silence."

There’s a long estrangement in the Denise-and-Paul story. And that’s just one of many twists and turns in this complicated relationship and in Paul’s equally complicated relationship with his husband. Preview of that story: Paul is the successor to Mark Doty’s previous lover, gone now for 16 years. But not really gone. Paul has had to train himself not to think “replacement — I am not his great love.”

The book takes a toll. The high drama sometimes wore me out — I think my life is intense, but these people are professionals — and yet that serves the book. In the inevitable deathbed chapter, life slowed for me as it did for everyone in that room: “time without boundaries.”

Sure, I cried, and often. But more, “The Narrow Door” made me want to call a few people, and say the magic words, and feel at home in the world. It’s hard to think of a book that can give you more than that.

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe
by Dawn Tripp
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.01
85 used & new from $11.97

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impossible but true: an account of Georgia O'Keeffe's life and work that asks big questions and delivers big pleasure, February 9, 2016
She was America's most famous female female artist --- what’s left to know about Georgia O’Keeffe?

The good news: “Georgia” is a uniquely American chronicle — told by O’Keeffe — that starts with the importance of a good story and a killer bod. Does that sound uncannily like the techniques used to make careers for women a century later? Yes, and to degree that may shock purists, this is a book about Branding and Marketing, the first two commandments of success in the art world and our world. A book about you, perhaps, if you’re female and have a man in your life who wants the best for you and knows how you can get it. And, in the end, a book about a talent so fierce it crushed pretty much everything in its path — a rare story of artistic triumph.

You know the outlines. In 1915, when O’Keeffe was a 27-year-old art teacher in Texas, she sent some charcoal drawings to a friend in New York. The friend showed them to Stieglitz, who flipped for them and showed them in his gallery. His letters and that show lured O’Keeffe to New York.

From the beginning, O’Keeffe had an exalted agenda: “When someone looks at something I have painted, I want them to feel what moved me to paint it in the first place. I paint as I feel it. Light, sky, air. As I want it to be felt.” But O’Keeffe wasn’t just heralded for her drawings. She was also a model — a nude model — for her photographer lover. Which she liked. A lot: “I’ve begun to crave the way his eyes rake over me, so I am only a body. No inhibition, no thought. Pure sensation. There is a strange freedom in that, and it begins to fuel my art.”

These photographs were, for all Stieglitz’s artistic cred, close to exploitation — the “male gaze” at work. When critics wrote about these nudes, they mostly saw smut. O'Keeffe, in the novel: "It’s the scandal that drew them. They’re not after the art. I am his mistress. It’s not a stranger’s body they’re describing, but mine. How could I not have seen this coming? I should have known. What was I thinking?"

We know what. She and Stieglitz were in a deep conversation about Art and Truth. But this was a conversation between two people who didn’t have equal power. Stieglitz was a god, O’Keeffe was a child. At the train station in New York, Stieglitz “holds me tightly…. everything in me turns suddenly soft.” Then there is “his hand in the small of my back, my body against him.” And in this way, as it has been since the beginning of time, she overcame her respect for Stieglitz’s marriage.

Tripp expertly makes drama of two traditional themes in the O’Keeffe story — the romance with Stieglitz and the development of her art — but it’s the track about her art and his management of it and her struggle not to be dominated by him that makes her novel compelling. It’s a story of “yes, but.” Stieglitz may be the mastermind behind her career, but O’Keeffe’s not a willing puppet. She’s a one-man woman, but he strays, in at least one instance with a woman who works at the gallery and supports it. He needs O’Keeffe in residence, but she needs to work in the West.

Why didn’t she break with Stieglitz? Well, he wrote thousands of letters to her, he was a wordsmith who addicted her to his words. And he adored her. And, though she wished it were different, the money.

These are important questions, but they don’t present themselves as questions, the writing is too good for that. In most first-person novels, the character talks to you. Here, she recollects with you — in her heart as well as her head. Which is to say that Dawn Tripp writes in much the same way as O’Keeffe painted: in vivid color and subtle shade. As O’Keeffe looks back on her life, those scenes and images lead her to a question I’ve never seen asked before: “It occurs to me that perhaps Stieglitz is not my life, but a detour from it.”

And this male reader wondered:. Was Georgia O’Keeffe, popularly regarded as a feminist heroine, oppressed as a woman — and where did she take that?

Best Man
Best Man
by Owen Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.00
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brothers, lost and found, in 23 moving poems, November 20, 2015
This review is from: Best Man (Paperback)
I know Owen Lewis as a psychiatrist (not mine) and a professor at Columbia. His poetry comes as late-breaking news, and the subject of “Best Man” even more so: 23 poems about his brother Jason, who died in 1980, age 23. These poems are blunt, colloquial, rooted in real events. Jason steals Owen’s prescription pad. Owen breaks the phone Jason called on. Jason’s body is “Found After Three Days… Your face running off your cheeks, in rivulets.” But “Best Man” is much more than reportage. In the end, Owen Lewis takes his brother’s years of self-destruction and their inability to connect and turns them into a kind of conversation. And the reader comes to understand how the accomplished healer and his lost brother are rendered… well, not equal, but definitely brothers. The Edward Hirsch lines that begin the book couldn’t be more appropriate: “Look closely and you will see/ Almost everyone carrying bags/ Of cement on their shoulders.”

At Home in the Garden
At Home in the Garden
by Carolyne Roehm
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $44.57
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that gardeners will get and give in large numbers at the holidays...for years., November 9, 2015
This review is from: At Home in the Garden (Hardcover)
I met Carolyne Roehm for media reasons — at the height of Wall Street prosperity in the mid ‘80s, I wrote a piece about her and Henry Kravis, her then husband, for New York Magazine. She was on an amazing trajectory, only a few years removed from her childhood identity as Carolyne Jane Smith, of Kirksville, Missouri, where her father was a school principal and her mother a teacher. Now she was a fashion designer beloved by women whose days began with lunch. As for Kravis, his private equity firm had recently bought a little company called Nabisco for $31.4 billion, the highest price ever paid for a commercial enterprise.

On a magazine cover, they looked like Reagan-era royalty.

The title of that article — “The Working Rich: The Real Slaves of New York” — only hinted at the glossy surface and flawed reality of those years on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Looking back, I see the title was prescient — for everything she got, she lost something. Her husband’s teenage son was killed in a car accident; her fashion business was shuttered and her marriage ended. She bought a house and devoted herself to its decorating and gardens; it was destroyed in a fire.

But out of the ashes, Carolyn Roehm dug in. She wrote a dozen books, took 30,000 photographs, became the darling of women who identify with her pluck and vision. And now she’s unleashed “At Home in the Garden,” a 304-page, huge (11” by 14”), 7.4 pound object. I’ve got a brown thumb, but this looks very much like a book that gardeners will get and give in large numbers at the holidays.

“At Home in the Garden” is an unapologetic Valentine to one of world’s most spectacular gardens. When the Kravises bought Weatherstone, a 1765 mansion in Connecticut, it had a garden, but nothing worth preserving — of its 59 acres, 45 were cornfields. Now there are three formal gardens, rose gardens, parterre gardens, pool gardens, and topiary rising to the heavens like Brancusi’s Endless Column. You get the idea. In her words: “a garden that threatened to give Versailles a run for its money.”

Many design books and shelter magazines are house porn. And if your first reaction to “At Home in the Garden” is that this house and garden would make good shelter for the poor after the revolution, you could make that case — the book certainly looks like house-and-garden porn. But while I’m as anxious to redistribute income as the next member of the 99%, I would urge my brothers and sisters in the struggle to make an exception for Carolyne Roehm. Not because she’s my friend, but because these gardens don’t exist because she was bored, needed a hobby and decided on a whim to make Art out of Nature.

In her childhood, Roehm spent long hours in her grandmother’s garden. In recent years, she’s withdrawn from a frantic social life to pursue “a passionate partnership with nature.” Those aren’t casual words for her; she sees parallels between romance and gardening. In an interview, she was asked about “necessary” luxuries. Her response: “lots of cut flowers.” Her favorite decorating accessory? “A mass of cut flowers.” Get the idea? She may look too perfect to get her hands dirty, but real perfection for her is in the 59 acres that exist purely because she had a vision that just wouldn’t quit.

My favorite picture? It’s not of the spectacular flowers, which are often photographed life-sized. I once owned a house in the country, in a horsey town with estates that had driveways as long as streets. I had the small landowner’s petty jealousy. But I consoled myself with one phrase: “geese on a rich man’s lawn.” And there they were at Weatherstone, a line of geese, clearly not potty-trained, making their editorial comment on the beauty around them. Like the imperfection in a Persian rug. Like life.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 19, 2016 6:31 PM PDT

V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks -- from Artichokes to Zucchini
V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks -- from Artichokes to Zucchini
by Michael Anthony
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.77
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vegetable cookbook like no other --- I'll be cooking from this book for years and years., October 27, 2015
The last time I saw Michael Anthony was in a private dining room at Gramercy Tavern. The occasion was a press lunch for his first cookbook --- recipes from Gramercy Tavern. But it didn’t feel like lunch, and Gramercy Tavern didn’t seem like a restaurant — unless at the 4-star level, a restaurant is defined as a spiritual experience that serves food. I swooned, went home and started cooking from his book. I still do. It’s that good.

Michael Anthony apparently wasn’t busy enough at Gramercy Tavern, for he has also become the Executive Chef at Untitled, the restaurant at the new Whitney museum. And as if that’s not enough to fill a day, he and Dorothy Kalins, godmother of all that is good in cookbooks, have created “V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks — from Artichokes to Zucchini.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Kale. Quinoa. Not one bit of animal protein on the plate.

Rest easy. This is a vegetable cookbook like no other.

First, in its format — as the subtitle suggests, it’s organized like an encyclopedia, with lovely illustrations and helpful pictures.

Second, in its simplicity. These are recipes that require no esoteric ingredients or elaborate preparation — this is gourmet home cooking.

Most original of all is the point-of-view. A great many cooks have adopted the vegetables-at-the-center-of-the-plate religion, with animal protein as a side dish, garnish, afterthought — or non-presence. (They ignore what the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki noted: “You have to kill vegetables too.”) Michael Anthony hasn’t surrendered to the Cult of Vegetables. He includes fish and meat recipes “because that’s the way I eat.” He just happens to like to eat vegetables more: “I am a cheerleader saying, ‘Hey, you can do this. Give it a try.’ I tell readers, ‘Set yourself up like this in the kitchen and you’ll be able to cook this quicker.’”

So the emphasis is on great taste. Which begins with vegetables in season: “We try not to be overbearing when it comes to our excitement about serving seasonal foods. But for me it’s a nonnegotiable. If I can’t do it, then I won’t be cooking it.”

As I read the book — inhaled it, really; I fight the impulse to say that I gobbled it up — I found myself earmarking the pages. I turned dozens down. I hope to be cooking from this book for years and years.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 3, 2015 3:44 AM PST

Sermon On The Rocks
Sermon On The Rocks
Price: $11.99
41 used & new from $6.75

21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If there were a category called "rock music for adults," this would be the CD of the year., October 16, 2015
This review is from: Sermon On The Rocks (Audio CD)
I’m one of Josh Ritter’s Top 10 fans, but you’d never know it from the way I react to his CDs when they’re first released. I resist them. Mightily. Instead of embracing the new, I fall in love all over again with the last CD he made. And then, six months later…

Not this time.

“Sermon on the Rocks” is just out, but I’ve had it for a few months, and every time I listen to it — and I listen to it often — I feel glad to be breathing the same oxygen as the musician who made it. And this is odd. “Sermon” should take me months to accept and adore. Why doesn’t it?

Start with the photograph. This is not the fuzzy-haired boy/man we’ve known for a decade, the singer-songwriter who gets pigeonholed as a folkie because that’s the easiest place to put him. This is the new, souped-up, lean and mean model. There’s a little James Dean here. A rocker?

Too simple. Think: man on fire, making what he calls “messianic oracular honky-tonk.”

As Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, liked to say, “It’s what’s in the grooves that counts.” So let’s go there.

“Sermon” begins with “Birds of the Meadow.” Does it sound like a Josh Ritter CD? It does not. It starts with electronic scatter and a pounding drum. Then:

"I didn’t come to ask you
How you’re doin’ these days.
Didn’t come to roll no stones away, no.
I’ve come to tell you that the end is nigh.
I’ve come to prophesize.

You wanted a messenger and I am thee,
Your heebie-jeebie man, in ecstasy.
But my eyes are blazing and I’m mental dark.
You better hark."

This is no merciful prophet. He’s street — the way he spits out ‘doin’” and “stones” billboard that. And what’s his prophecy? “Fire is coming.”

A dark CD? Anything but. Don’t be fooled, Many of the songs couldn’t be jauntier. One takes Ritter 6 CDs into his past, to a story of the Midwest back when men wore high collars and spats and you could “see the devil” in a man’s eyes. And then there are three songs on YouTube you can hear now — and I, putting on my critic’s cap, can talk about. Suggestion: Sit back from the screen, the praise is intense.

“Getting Ready to Get Down” is the single from the CD, with a million plays on Spotify signifying something like a FM hit. Ritter’s commentary: “I wrote it (for the most part) on the back porch looking at an apple tree and alternating coffee, bourbon and ice water. I consider the album to be pretty adventurous and wild, and I think ‘Get Down’ really gets the party started.”

Because of the CD’s title and this song, I hope — I pray — that Red State fundamentalists will burn this CD, the way they burned Beatles albums after John said the band was bigger than Jesus. (Talk about free publicity!) There’s certainly provocation: “Give your love freely to whoever that you please… And when you get damned in the popular opinion, it’s just another damn of the damns you’re not giving.”

Another potential single, “Where the Night Takes Us,” evokes Ritter’s Idaho childhood:

“I remember fall nights at the football game, the wheat fields freshly shorn, their stubble burning, filling the autumn air with harvest dust, sweet smoke, and the light of the red-orange ball that was the rising moon. To think of nights like that is to let the moonlight in, half-bright like my memories of those times…"

Instant translation: young hearts, running free. God, to go back there, to be who we were then. And to feel that way now? Here it is….

I wish there were a video for “The Stone.” My sense of it: Ritter’s looking back to his broken marriage and comparing it to his new love. You change your place, but you keep your hurt, and you keep your pain “close company now.” And here you are, “different arms around me now,” on a different street in a different town. I have been there, and so perhaps have you, and you know there’s nothing to do but “free your heart from the stone.”

Finally, “Homecoming.” Ritter’s associations:

“From Make Out Point, wherever it should be, you can look out over your city, your town, your bend in the road. From here you can speak into the cavern of the night sky. Your dreams and wishes, vast and crazy as they are, will be registered, if only just once, as in confession, by the person who has come here with you. A lot of other stuff will happen also, and this will be good. There will be nothing wrong with it. There is a Tree of Good and Evil here, in this moment, in this high place. For an instant you see it against moonlight, ancient and cragged, but it loses focus and is lost against the twinkling lights of human lives far below.”

This is Small Town boy finding out about life late at night, probably violating a girl’s curfew. It’s Bob Seger. It’s Bruce Springsteen. It’s America as we wish it were. Not “darkness at the edge of town,” because there’s as much Good here as there is Evil. A universe in perfect, eternal balance. And… listen to the propulsion in the insistent background… the joy of coming home.

The CD was recorded in New Orleans, with a new producer. There are hot female backup singers, choruses that mash up gospel and Memphis, guitars that Keith Richards might envy, electronics that float you forward. But in the center, heart open, mind racing, there is Josh Ritter.

I used to think: “heir to Paul Simon.” Too easy. Now I’m reminded of a favorite story.

Marcel Proust enters the Ritz dining room. Circles under his eyes. Greasy hair. Obviously a degenerate. And yet a fuss is made over him.

A Prussian general notices. And asks his aide: “Who’s that?”

“Marcel Proust, sir. He’s written a book.”

“What’s it like?”

“It’s not ‘like’ anything, sir.”

And that is “Sermon on the Rocks.” Not like anything. But very much like the best CD anyone will make for grown-ups this year.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2016 11:49 PM PDT

All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness
All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness
by Sheila Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.32
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two books in one: a fast-motion nightmare about a suicide and a well-reported mental health guide. Both excellent., October 13, 2015
Sheila Hamilton’s business is getting the story. She does it very well — as a television reporter, she’s won five Emmys. In Portland, Oregon, where she hosts the morning drive-time show on KINK FM, she’s uses her celebrity to promote good causes and creative people.

But there is a story she missed, and it’s huge — the suicide of her husband. She tells that story, and much more, in “All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness.” Here’s how the book starts:

"I missed much of the unfolding of my husband’s mental illness. By the time I pieced together the puzzle of who David actually was, he was falling apart. My once brilliant, intense and passionate partner was dead within six weeks of a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder, leaving my nine-year-old daughter and me without so much as a note to understand his decision. He’d left us hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and with no plan for helping us recover from the profound grief of his suicide."

Well, you knew a story like this would be a nightmare. Still, the day-by-day account is an irresistible page-turner. David paying no attention to his business, losing weight until he’s skeletal, destroying every shred of his wife’s love. David repentant, swearing he’d make things right. David cutting his wrists, charming his way out of the hospital. David, breaking into a home, stealing a gun. David in the snow, his legs crossed, a hole in his head, looking finally at peace. His daughter as her mother told her the news, making the sound of “the crippling of her heart.”

But that fast-motion train wreck, exquisitely told, is only half the book. The other half is a well-reported mental health guide that could be a primer for anyone who’s aware that something is wrong with a friend, loved one or him/herself but doesn’t know what to do. Taken together, Hamilton’s book is both powerful and useful: a picture of the man who died and the woman who survived him, and her commitment to help others from acquiring her expensive education.

M Train
M Train
by Patti Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.57
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72 of 92 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A meditation on loss and survival? Yes, but even more, a book about drinking coffee: 45 times in 253 pages., October 6, 2015
This review is from: M Train (Hardcover)
I was an early fan of Patti Smith's first memoir, "Just Kids," which went on to win the National Book Award.
I wish I could say I was as enthusiastic about “M Train.”
I wish I even knew what to say about it.
The New York Times knows. Here’s the start of the rave review from the generally dependable Michiko Kakutani:
"Patti Smith’s achingly beautiful new book, “M Train,” is a kaleidoscopic ballad about the losses dealt out by time and chance and circumstance. Losing her husband, the guitarist Fred (Sonic) Smith, to heart failure in 1994 at the age of 45. Losing her brother, Todd, a month later to a stroke. Losing her early New York friend and roommate, Robert Mapplethorpe, to AIDS in 1989. Her book is about moving from a time when her children were little and 'the things I touched were living' ('my husband’s fingers, a dandelion, a skinned knee') to a time when she increasingly began to capture and memorialize moments from her life in photos and words — to create, as an artist, talismanic souvenirs of the past. Of which this book is one."
If you’re a fan, stop right here. Buy the book. Savor it. Ignore what follows.
What’s my problem with “M Train?” The publisher’s description acknowledges that coffee is a topic — “’M Train’ is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature, and coffee” — it just doesn’t indicate the weight of each topic. In my reading, the ultimate topic is coffee. Patti Smith drinks coffee. Gallons of it. Really, it seems like all she does.
How many times does Patti Smith drink coffee in these 253 pages?
I counted: 45 times.
Were there passages in “M Train” that moved me?
Yes. I sat for a while with this sentence: “In time we often become one with those we once failed to understand.”
And after the deaths of her husband and brother, she writes that she “spent hours in Fred’s favorite chair, dreading my own imagination. I rose and performed small tasks with the mute concentration of one imprisoned in ice.” If you’ve ever had a harsh, sudden shock, you know she’s described the aftermath with a diamond-cutter’s precision.
But far more often, she’s jetting off to pay homage to some dead idol. Or giving us a laundry list of her reading. Or rattling around in her empty home, delivering monologues inspired by what I’d call extreme loneliness and isolation.
She sees herself as a survivor, acknowledging her losses but refusing to surrender. As well she might. But if you didn’t know the legend of Patti Smith, you might think she’s an aging Miss Haversham.
“I’d like to write a book that everybody loves,” she says.
I wish she had.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2015 1:21 PM PST

Climbing Back: A Family's Journey through Brain Injury
Climbing Back: A Family's Journey through Brain Injury
by Elise Rosenhaupt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.69
28 used & new from $0.54

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a disaster/survival story of courage, resilience --- and rare intelligence, September 1, 2015
I haven’t seen most of my college friends in 47 years. When I think of them, I see them as they were — as we were — in 1968. Elise Rosenhaupt and her boyfriend Tom: off they go, bright and shining, headed for New Mexico. So when Elise recently sent me her new book, “Climbing Back: A Family’s Journey through Brain Injury,” the title was like a blow to my brain. It begins like this: “The last time I saw our son before his injury, my husband and I were walking toward Harvard Square.” And you sink with her: getting the news that Martin, a Harvard sophomore, had been struck by a car that launched him 100 feet in the air. He’d landed on his head. He was in Neurological Intensive Care at Massachusetts General Hospital.

There are many books that chronicle disaster and recovery. This one’s not like them. There are doctors and nurses, of course, and friends in the waiting room, and Harvard faculty showing up unexpectedly, but Elise Rosenhaupt has worked as a poetry editor, and she knows when to weave in the story of her marriage, her family, her parents and their brain disorders. The prose is taut: “There is nothing in my world but wanting Martin to live.” And you think, this is how recovery is done when it’s done right, when you marvel at the frailty of our bodies and the resilience of our spirits.

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