Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prelude: A Novel about Secrets, Treachery and the Arrival of Peak Oil by Kurt Cobb

Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 272 pages
· Publisher: Public Interest Communications, 2010
· Price: $14.95
· ISBN-10: 0983108900
· ISBN-13: 978-0983108900
Before I’d even opened the cover of Prelude, the novel about peak oil by Kurt Cobb, I knew this was going to be a good read—and an unnerving one. After all, I had heard the author speak before; we live in the same Michigan city of Kalamazoo. I knew him to be a mesmerizing speaker about all things energy and global resources, something of our local Al Gore, and I also knew that every time I heard him speak, I went home feeling shaky about our planet’s future. Shaky, but also resigned to do my part to make things better.
I’ve also been a long time reader of Cobb’s intelligent and meticulously researched blog, Resource Insights. Every time I log on, I learn something new and find myself yet again rethinking how I use energy. Now, Cobb has put his research and insights into a novel, calling it fiction, yet this story of intrigue and espionage is based on what he has learned about how we use energy.
Prelude is a story about Cassie Young during 2008, employed at an important Washington D.C. energy consulting firm. Her firm is forever making announcements about how deep go our energy reserves, but then Cassie discovers a report hidden from public scrutiny. The report reveals a looming energy crisis based on manipulated figures by major world oil exporters, and the crisis is not at all at a comfortable distance. Peak oil is a reality to which society is turning a willfully blind eye. After all, we live in a world where oil is our lifeblood, and if we should run out of this limited resource, the world as we know it would come to a screeching halt.
The fast-paced story takes Cassie to Canada to take a closer look at tar sands, about which we are hearing today as another resource for oil. She meets Victor Chernov, a former oil trader, who reveals yet more damaging data to her. Forget about Cassie’s career … she is soon running for her life. This kind of information is too big for one person to carry.
Who will listen? What does this mean for civilization as we know it? Consider this excerpt:
“Suddenly for Cassie the whole world had now become one big manifestation of energy, much of it in the form of oil. Humans were not builders any more. They were just the guiding hands for the flow of petroleum that came from deep underground and then went deep into the life of society. Petroleum, she knew, was doing the lion’s share of work for the world.
“Cassie had understood all this intellectually before. She even knew the energy industry was the key industry in society. Nothing got done without energy. But she had never before understood it so concretely as she did today. She wondered if she could ever go back to looking at the fountain in Dupont Circle and not think of the energy needed to pump the water, or see a farm field and not think of the oil that goes into the tractors and the combines, or even enjoy simply reading a book without thinking about the energy used to cut the logs that were moved to the mill and made into pulp and then into paper that was then shipped to the printer and bound into books that were shipped to the bookstore.” (Pgs. 153-154)
I’ve passed Prelude along to others interested in doing something about ecology and especially those who aren’t, and recently sent it to my son as a gift … even as I considered the energy expended to do so. The novel is well written, packed with fascinating information, and concludes with a glossary and questions answered by the author for those who wish to learn more.
Kurt Cobb is an author and columnist who speaks and writes frequently on energy and the environment. His column appears on the Paris-based science news site Scitizen, and his work has been featured on Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, 321energy, Le Monde Diplomatique, Common Dreams, EV World, and many other sites. He is a founding member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas—USA, and he serves on the board of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions. He maintains a blog called Resource Insights.
An author interview appears in the Winter 2011-2012 Issue of The Smoking Poet.

Cache of Corpses, A Steve Martinez Mystery by Henry Kisor

Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Format: Kindle Edition
· File Size: 1054 KB
· Price: $2.99 (book format also available)
· Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
· Language: English
When I recently remarked to a writer-friend who writes a mystery series based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, “But you’re the only one who writes about the U.P., right?,” he gave me a long, meaningful gaze. You know, the kind of gaze that makes you realize you’ve just said something really stoopid. So I did some online researching. Yeah. I did say something stoopid.
I got a list of U.P. authors, a very long list, I might add, and among them was Henry Kisor. My writer-friend had recommended Kisor, so I browsed through some electronic versions of his books, and chose this one, Cache of Corpses. It is one of a series about a detective named Steve Martinez, a Lakota Sioux by birth, now living in the very small town called Porcupine City, in the area near the Porcupine Mountains of the U.P.
The story opens like this:
“It’s in the Dying Room,” Jenny Benson said, voice strained, ample chest heaving. “And it has no head.”
Oh boy, I thought, coming in with a slam, and didn’t wait a moment to add that stereotypical detective mystery bit with a heaving ample chest. Suppressing an eye roll (hard to read that way), I settled in for the read to see where it would take me.
After a bit of a clumsy start, I became genuinely interested in the story. Not my genre, even as I am a fan of most all things U.P., and it didn’t have the delicious tang of humor I’d found in the Woods Cop series by Joe Heywood, but I appreciated the cast of northern wilderness characters and the mix of woods politics—detective Martinez is running for deputy sheriff at the time that a string of murders takes place, leaving a cache of headless, handless corpses wrapped in plastic and hidden as if on scavenger hunt for a group of weird, sociopathic geocaching game-players.
Kisor does a good job of painting his characters in bright and memorable colors. The detective himself is a likeable person, as is his three-year woman friend Ginny, a tough but warm-hearted woman living in a log cabin and keeping her wealth quiet—northern folk don’t necessarily respect monetary wealth.
Townspeople each enrich the portrait of the northern town and its history, as does the incumbent sheriff running against Martinez in the campaign. Perhaps Tommy, the young boy with a tragic childhood that Ginny wishes to adopt, comes off a bit flat and unbelievable, a little too perfect for a child emerging from a mess of alcoholic and now dead parents and a tangled foster system. But the mystery itself unfolds with increasing interest, winding through odd Internet chat rooms and big city brutes that think the tucked away northern wilderness is just the place to hide corpses. It’s a fun if stomach-churning tale, and I’d pick up another book by this author to see how he solves the next one.
Henry Kisor is a retired Chicago Sun Times book editor and an author of several fiction and nonfiction books, spending his winters in Chicago and his summers in Ontonagon County, where the Porcupine Mountains are located.

Naked in the Stream: Isle Royale Stories by Vic Foerster

Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 288 pages
· Publisher: Arbutus Press, 2010
· Price: $19.95
· ISBN-10: 1933926228
· ISBN-13: 978-1933926223
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the U.P., is easily one of my favorite areas around, and within that, the Keweenaw Peninsula. On a clear day, standing on the Keweenaw and looking across the sparkling mirror of Lake Superior, one can just see the outline of Isle Royale on the horizon. Somehow, getting there has long evaded me, even as I have lived on and now often travel to the Keweenaw to rejuvenate my spirit. That must change, and soon—and so, in that effort to at last make that wilderness adventure happen, I decided to pick up a book about Isle Royale written by someone who really knows the island.
Vic Foerster, arborist by trade, is a resident of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the Lower Peninsula, but has been making annual trips to Isle Royale for nearly 40 years. So many wonderful and wild places to go, but there is no place as pristine, he says, as Isle Royale for the true wilderness experience. (I had the pleasure of interviewing Vic Foerster in December 2011 for a local radio station, and got to ask questions that go even beyond what he shares with readers in this collection of 18 stories.)
Naked in the Stream is reading pleasure. Foerster’s writing style is clean and clear, flowing as a river, and his stories educate and enchant, inspire and amuse. He is not afraid to look a tad foolish, as he writes about his initial lack of expertise in the wild, unable to sleep in his flimsy tent as two randy moose do a boisterous mating dance just outside. He often lets Ken, his frequent travel companion and fishing buddy, take the limelight and outshine him in ability to catch the bigger fish sooner, or withstand the obstacles and challenges of the trail.
There are some great fish stories in this collection, but also insights into the differences between camping in solitude, camping with a best buddy, or camping with one’s child. Since the stories cover such an extended time span, there are interesting differences to observe in the experience (such as few if any female campers to later become predominantly female campers), although these usually pertain to the traveler and, happily, not to the island itself, which has more or less remained the same—wild and beautiful.
My favorites among the stories were about the man who crosses the watery distance between Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula (anyone who is at all acquainted with Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, will know this is a dangerous proposition) alone in a kayak, and the story of how Foerster’s enchantment with the Keweenaw began. This beginning is actually the very last story in the collection, and once read, it feels right just there.
Worthy of note is the cover artist and illustrator, Joyce Koskenmaki. The cover is being sold as a poster, and it is beautiful with its midnight blue, dotted with stars, empty boat on the mirror of the lake below. Her illustrations also lead into each of the stories.
Vic Foerster writes that Isle Royale is the least visited of all our national parks. Difficulty in reaching it seems to be the reason why, but a part of me cheers for that—one wants at least a few parts of the earth to remain as they are, untamed. His book lets others enjoy it vicariously, but for some of us, inspire an itinerary …

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile by Katie Alvord

Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 320 pages
· Publisher: New Society Publishers, 2000
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0865714088
· ISBN-13: 978-0865714083
If you can find a copy, get this book. Published in 2000, copies are becoming limited, yet the book has never been more relevant than today (Note to publishers: second printing, please!). Approaching this book as someone who is very concerned about the mess we are making of our environment, yet blushingly guilty of making a horrid daily commute in my car from one city to another, I was fascinated with the story Katie Alvord related.
That Americans are deep in a love affair with the automobile is not news to me. Reading Alvord’s very readable and well researched background on how that auto affair began (we tend to think of cars as coming out of Detroit, yet they were actually invented and first driven in Europe), how it was consummated, how it is sustained and encouraged, and how it is leading us (quite purposefully by those who have something monetary to gain) into increasingly dire straits, held my attention to the very end.
Alvord, after all, doesn’t just appropriately horrify us with the damage done and being done. She also offers ways to extricate ourselves, divorce ourselves, if you will, from this toxic relationship. One after another, she takes apart every argument and point of resistance. A resident of Houghton, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula, she walks the talk and shares how that’s working out for her. It’s inspiring. Freedom really can be delightful …
In sections entitled “Love’s Been Blind: How We Ended Up Married to Cars,” “Grounds for Divorce: Why Our Automotive Marriage is on the Rocks,” and “How to Divorce Your Car: Let Me Count the Ways …,” Alvord discusses the proliferation of roads and suburbs, the role of marketing and advertising (ever notice how much of automobile marketing is about seduction and romance?), oil spills and other damage done to our environment, the real cost of cars (eye opening), the toll of car crashes and road rage, and finally moves into alternative lifestyles—walking, biking, public transportation, ride sharing, telecommunications, alternative fuels (not as grand as you might think), and breaking free of auto dominance.
If you think this might make for dry reading, I promise you it is anything but. If at first glance, I thought yikes, lot of graphs and charts! sidebars and lists! glossaries and notes! then at second glance, I was so fascinated by the story that I found myself carrying the book along as I walked, generally running into walls and forgetting to eat. Second glance took me through to the end, emerging with a newfound resolution to become “car lite” if not eventually free of those tires beneath me.
“If enough environmentally concerned North Americans responded to the finding that car driving is their most environmentally harmful activity and decided to divorce their cars, going either car-lite or car-free, we might move a long way toward ... a shift like this could make the world look quite different in 20 or 30 years. It could give us a world of compact, convivial communities, with distinct boundaries, surrounded by green space, connected more often by rail. It could contribute to a more relaxed pace of life, clean the air and water, and restore a blessed quietude that has otherwise all but disappeared behind engine noise. We would be healthier, walking and cycling down streets in the shade of trees planted where asphalt used to be. Children and the elderly would feel safer on the streets and have more independence without having to rely on others to drive them places. We’d have billions of dollars worth of infrastructure that could be reallocated to other uses … we would save money, and we would save lives.” (Pg. 241)

Freelance writer Katie Alvord is best known as the author of Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile. Her non-fiction work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Boston Globe, E Magazine, Orion Afield, The Progressive, Utne Reader, and more. She also writes fiction and poetry. A former librarian, she has worked with non-profit groups and served on local environmental and bicycle advisory committees. In 1993, she was recognized as a San Francisco Bay Area Clean Air Champion for "making a difference" by going car-free and writing about the experience. More recently, her series on climate change in the Lake Superior basin won the 2007 Science Journalism Award for Online Reporting from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has lectured frequently on environmental topics in the U.S. and Canada. Born and raised in northern California, she now lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
See my interview with Katie Alvord in the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 Issue of The Smoking Poet.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Build Your Dream Cabin in the Woods by J. Wayne Fears

Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Format: Kindle Edition
· File Size: 14576 KB
· Print Length: 240 pages
· Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010
· Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
· Price: $9.39
· ASIN: B0056GXI8E
So many of us have a dream cabin in the woods envisioned in our minds—I do, too. Most of us never do get to realize it, but it can still be fun to dream. Actually, as I write this, I seem to be nearing the realization of my dream, and so I picked up the Kindle version of How to Build Your Dream Cabin in the Woods to learn more.
There is much to learn. This is not the first such book I’ve read, but it would be a great choice as an introduction to learning about log cabins. J. Wayne Fears writes in a manner that is easy to follow and understood by anyone, not just someone practiced in construction. But then, the book isn’t really about the actual construction (a glossary does list log cabin builders and kits). It is more of an introduction to the dream, familiarizing the reader with all the considerations to be made going into such a project.
Not least among such considerations, the author notes, is thinking through if one truly appreciates a life of solitude and seclusion. Log cabins tend to be built in secluded areas of wilderness, and that does not mean a life of convenience transported from the suburbs. He suggests trying out such a lifestyle if even for a short vacation, to be sure that one is comfortable with it. There are trade-offs to be made, but the benefits can be tremendous. He recounts the story of a couple who longed for a log home in the woods, built one, moved in, only to find they couldn’t bear the disconnect from the life of convenience and social connection to which they were accustomed.
Fears also makes it clear that this book is not about log homes. It is about log cabins. Anyone who has started to even scratch at the surface of learning about log cabins knows that it is difficult to find anything about actual cabins, that is, 1,000 square feet and less. Paging through contemporary magazines about log homes, one finds log McMansions, not cabins.
If, however, one does want a cabin, and a true wilderness lifestyle, Fears goes over many important considerations. He writes about choosing a good site and how to go about buying it, what inspections to get first. He writes about different kinds of building materials, pros and cons, from logs to roofing materials. He writes about the benefits of wood stoves over fireplaces, and encourages not installing electricity at all, but gives advice if one does want to plug in from time to time.
And more: how to split wood, how to install good lighting and not cause cabin fires, how to create a shooting range that is safe. He also writes about how to have a good water system, but once again, staying with the wilderness experience, he leans toward the outhouse, explaining how to keep it relatively maintenance free and always clean with a few simple moves. Composting toilets got their coverage, too. The author even covers cabin cooking, more times than not done outdoors on a fire ring, and he includes plans for building the perfect bench by the fire. Not to be missed are rules for visitors and preventing vandalism when you are back in the city.
Photographs are beautiful and helpful, often showing cabins the author himself has built, and quite a few simple blueprints are included, mostly for cabins 400 to 800 square feet in size. Links are embedded in the text, especially convenient in a Kindle version, and I followed up on several of them, learning even more.
Smart, clearly written, sensible—this is a book to take the dream into reality. Enjoy.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Base Ten by Maryann Lesert

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2009
• Price: $15.95
• ISBN-10: 1558615814
• ISBN-13: 978-1558615816

According to publishing industry research, women make up the majority of readers. I’m not going to argue the popularity of romance for female readers, as I have worked in libraries before and seen the bags of romance novels some women carry out of the library with weekly return trips for more. But there are a great many of us who, like me, wince and roll our eyes at the mere sight of that genre. We want something else, something more, something beyond, something deeper, something richer, and yes, something far more honest and real.

When author and playwright Maryann Lesert wrote her debut novel and sought a publisher, she was surprised and dismayed at the response. Publishers were not turning her away for lack of literary quality of her manuscript. Indeed, she received praise for her writing ability. They were turning her work away because, they claimed, women don’t want to read such stuff. After all, Lesert’s main character, Jillian Greer, is an astrophysicist. If there is a romance in this story—and there is—it is not the bodice-ripping lust of Harlequin, but rather the hunger for a relationship that allows both partners to achieve their dreams. This includes love, sure, and children, yes, but also achievement in one’s intellectual pursuits. For Jillian, that means hard science.

Jillian has been married for ten years to Jack. They have two bright and endearing children. Jack has a great career, and Jillian works, too, if at a held-back level that many women find themselves choosing in order to have time and energy left over to raise a family as well. Jack is not painted as a glaring chauvinist or some kind of bad guy. That’s too easy, and Lesert’s writing is far more subtle and nuanced than that. This is a man who is obviously attracted to his wife for all the right reasons of true intimacy, inside and out, the whole person. He is supportive, or at least, he tries to be. Yet Jillian finds that we live in a society that encourages one gender over the other in a myriad of ways that still end up, at the end of the day, requiring the sacrifice of self—and usually it is the woman making that sacrifice.

One of my favorite scenes in the book shows Jillian moving through her house at the beginning of the day, husband and children scooted off to work and school, and seeing for the umpteenth time open drawers with clothes spilling out in the bedrooms. If asked, husband and children will bring about order in their rooms. If asked, all will do their part. But here’s what gets Jillian’s goat: it is always, but always, on her shoulders to do the asking. Bottom line, it remains her responsibility to manage the household. And that makes her feel crazy. Silent, suppressed-scream crazy. Exactly the way that so, so many women have felt in so, so many households across the world for eons.

After ten years of marriage, at age 40, realizing that she is fast approaching the cut-off age to take part in a space program that has been her dream since completing her degree in astrophysics at Michigan Tech University in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jillian takes ten days to go off into the wild and contemplate in solitude her predicament. She camps in Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, pondering the stars in the sky that she loves so much, and how to bring balance into her life. She loves her family very much, and she struggles with guilt at leaving them even for this short period of time—but she feels like she is dying a slow death inside.

Gazing at the starry sky, Jillian notes:

“In the beginning, the fracturing of light looks like life: bold, brilliant, unhampered. In the end, colors smolder with sadness, retreat. But in truth, the progression from bold to brilliant to pale is more about fracturing and reuniting. Colors separated yearn for wholeness. Colors of light, gases in the atmosphere, shards of yourself, yearn for wholeness.” (Page 37)

Base Ten is a story about an intelligent and accomplished woman scientist struggling with her unresolved dreams, her human longing for love, companionship and family, alongside her equally human longing to fulfill the hunger of a bright mind to expand its reach and fulfill its potential. It is a complex and wonderfully honest story about a struggle women face in finding life balance every day. Is it really possible to have it all? Or does trying to have it all merely make us into exhausted jugglers, desperately trying not to drop something of great importance.

I’m grateful to the Feminist Press of CUNY for recognizing that there is indeed a market for a book about women and science, and that very many women readers can relate to the struggles of Jillian Greer, as written so honestly and beautifully by Maryann Lesert. Although Jillian’s choice of career is astrophysics, Lesert manages to make her research understandable to any reader, showing a woman’s unique approach to scientific thinking and discovery, and interspersing short chapters of very nearly poetic scientific explanation of astronomy.

We need more books like this—for women and for men.

Lesert earned a BA in Art and English from Western Michigan University and an MFA in Writing from Spalding University. She has worked as a graphic designer; medical writer, editor, and video producer; educational technology coordinator; and creator of a playwriting program funded by the Michigan Council for the Arts. Currently, Lesert teaches writing at Grand Rapids Community College.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Grip, A Memoir of Fierce Attractions by Nina Hamberg

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 288 pages
• Publisher: Route One Press, 2011
• Price: $12.50
• ISBN-10: 0982754701
• ISBN-13: 978-0982754702

When I received an advanced reader copy of Grip for review, I anticipated a memoir about a woman’s survival of abuse. With so many women experiencing abusive relationships (one out of three is the last statistic I’ve heard, and I expect that is on the low side), we sorely need many more such stories of how girls and women cope and, hopefully, survive and thrive later in their lives.

Grip has such moments to set the background. There is the abuse from two very self-centered parents, the father being physically abusive by shoving and hitting, the mother being emotionally withdrawn (as many women are who have abusive partners), a brother who just seems cold. And, there is an attempted rape by a “peeping tom,” leaving the narrator scarred physically by the man’s knife, but emotionally by the violation of her privacy, her body, her trust. Law enforcement officers add to that abuse when they can’t be bothered to take such violence against women seriously. They shrug off the incident in a gratingly insulting manner. The would-be rapist is never caught. The setting is rich with potential to tell this story.

A very long string of abusive relationships follows in the narrator’s life. She chooses one partner after another that treats her badly, cheats on her, uses her and generally treats her with utmost disrespect.

I should be feeling pretty sympathetic by now, right? After all, I myself fall into the statistic of the one out of three, and I know what it means to undergo variations of at least some of the narrator’s experiences. I also understand that many of those who are abused become the next generation of abusers, as inexplicable as that seems on the surface. Women who are abused have a way of being drawn to abusive men, as if following a pattern until they have whatever is roiling inside them worked out, allowing them to break free at last.

The narrator does show many of these typical behaviors. She can be emotionally stunted at moments, at others tosses her heart out with such abandon and stunning trust that it is bound to end badly. Indeed, the book as a whole tends more toward being a story of her sexual conquests and misadventures, giving credence to the theory that those who suffer abuse lose so much self-esteem that they then allow themselves to be treated like crap by anyone who crosses their path, and nowhere more than in the bedroom.

Yet I felt no empathy. The narrator’s actions were often outrageous, but what left me cold was her seeming lack of introspection, making any connection to the events of her childhood to her present actions or drawing any conclusions from them in retrospect. I saw no growth. Her fantasies center on being utterly submissive, even repeatedly releasing her would-be rapist to keep on doing what he did to her. In college, she calls herself a feminist, yet seems oblivious to her requirement of the validation of a man at every turn.

All of which could be typical behavior for a survivor, yet the narrator never quite seems to make that vital connection. When she enrolls in a class for filmmaking, she is angered by the pornographic and demeaning films of her male peers, sanctioned and even encouraged by the male professor. Yet the film she produces is equally outrageous, with women pondering the violent deaths of men. Rather than embracing the power of a woman, she becomes one of those so-called feminists who merely emulate men and try to one-up them in their bad behavior. Never is that connection made that she is behaving no differently than the boys.

Her sexual escapades are no different. She claims to be a free and modern woman, enjoying meaningless romps with men she does not know—even as she wears romantic clothing, admittedly “plays the part of an actor” in bed, and wonders why she can’t seem to find her “soul mate.” Her response is to become submissive as soon as she does catch a partner, anything to please, to allow herself to be used, even her wallet to be depleted—to the point of bailing out a boyfriend from jail that had been arrested for attempting rape. She seems to realize her betrayal against her gender in doing so, calling it “massive,” yet bails him out and continues to support him anyway.

As I read, I kept waiting for the narrator to have her a-ha moment. She mistreats her dogs, ending in the neglect and sometimes painful deaths of her pets. She allows herself to get screwed in the back of a car in daylight on a residential street with a little boy watching in amazement. She gets a job as a counselor for at-risk youth, telling lies about her qualifications to get the job, and treats the job with absolute disregard for the vulnerability of such youth, at that moment when they might yet be rehabilitated before becoming career criminals. She hits one of the boys across the face, “open handed, hard,” and doesn’t seem at all to care about the tremendous responsibility she has been given. No wonder our juvenile system is falling apart …

No a-ha moment. No process of evolvement. The narrator just seems to be telling her story of being blatantly abusive herself without ever connecting the dots. There is almost a light tone of bragging when it comes to her conquests and betrayals—of herself, of her gender, of humanity.

When the story finally ends with a happy second marriage, I am all out of empathy. Let’s see …. she has mistreated animals, children, men, women, herself. If there was a reason for all of this, by the end of the memoir, it is very nearly lost. If one has abundant reason for behaving badly at first, at some point it is time to take responsibility, take a hard look in the mirror, and understand why one does what one does—and stop it. The risk otherwise is to become one’s own enemy, a mirror image. Without that lesson learned, the memoir hardly has purpose or message.

One other thing puzzled me as I read this memoir. Brand names of various products were often so blatantly inserted into scenes, without any relevance, that I wondered if I wasn’t reading one of those examples when an author takes payment to work advertisements into copy. I understand this is a new trend, as technology has allowed people to blip out ads on their phones and televisions, and so marketers are looking for new ways to publicize their brand. On page 18, the narrator as a young girl is brushing her teeth with Crest. On page 37, she drinks Lipton tea. On page 38, a Librium gets popped. On page 41, absolutely everyone in the neighborhood is driving an Oldsmobile. On page 42, there are Bungalow Bars and Good Humor ice cream, and on page 46, one washes with Irish Spring. Really? Either the narrator has a remarkable memory, or the reader is left wondering how much of this copy is manufactured.