March 2016 Book Reviews

Born with Teeth: A Memoir by Kate Mulgrew. Copyright 2015.

 

Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of Kate Mulgrew until I ran across this book on Audible with her reading it for only $5.95. I enjoy reading about the lives of actresses and other celebrities, and this book didn’t totally disappoint.

She starts out by talking about her life growing up in Dubuque, Iowa in a large Irish Catholic family. In a parochial school, the nun who taught fifth grade sparked her interest in poetry and acting by encouraging her to enter a poem recitation contest. In high school, she decided to graduate as early as possible and become involved in local theater. She describes how her younger sister Tessie became a willing slave to her big sister, the star.

After moving to New York, Kate discusses how she studied at New York University and took lessons at the Stella Addler Acting Studio for a year. Stella had a rule that while in her program which usually lasted a couple of years, an actor couldn’t work professionally. However, when Kate had an opportunity to star in a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and in Ryan’s Hope, a television soap opera about an Irish family that runs a pub, she couldn’t resist. She left the studio with Stella’s blessing, and her career took off.

She then describes how she played role after role on TV and stage and her affairs with one man after another. At one point, she became pregnant and decided to give up the baby for adoption. She describes her feelings of guilt, even before she signed the final papers, and how she tried to find out about her baby a year later before moving to L.A. to star in Mrs. Columbo. Her experience was similar to that of Philomena but had a more positive outcome.

She eventually married Robert Egan, a director of an acting company in Seattle where she was working. She describes that and the birth of her sons and how she juggled their care and her career. Someone predicted that she could never be a natural mother, and she wasn’t.

The marriage ended in divorce about five years later, and she describes how she met Tim, a politician who was a friend of her mother’s, in Ireland where she and her sons were vacationing. She then details how she landed the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. She describes how her seven-year stint in this role affected her relationship with her sons and their surprising reaction when she took them to the first season premiere at the Paramount Theater in L.A.

I would like to have known more. When Kate finally met her daughter, whom she gave away at birth, she promised to introduce her to her sons, but how did that pan out? Did her sons throw spit balls at her daughter like they did at the screen during the first season premiere of Star Trek Voyager? By the end of the book, it’s pretty obvious she married Tim, but he had two daughters so I’m wondering if they became a big, happy family. I’m also interested in her role on Orange Is the New Black, but I suppose a memoir must end somewhere. To learn more about Kate Mulgrew, click here.

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Palisades Park by Alan Brennert. Copyright 2013.

 

This novel, based on the author’s experiences with this New Jersey amusement park, spans almost fifty years. In 1922, eleven-year-old Eddie enjoys visiting the park with his family, swimming in the pool, riding the rides, viewing the side shows, and eating his fill of hot dogs, French fries, and cotton candy. Eight years later, he returns to the park to work and meets Adelle. They marry on a carousel, and after having two kids, they eventually open their own French fry stand in the park.

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, Eddie enlists in the Naval Reserve, much to Adelle’s annoyance, but she and the children do their best to carry on while he’s away. At the end of the war, when Eddie returns home after serving in a non-combat position on a Hawaiian island, Adelle, who has always wanted to be an actress, runs off with a magician who was one of the attractions in Palisades Park, leaving Eddie and the children to fend for themselves.

Their daughter Toni aspires to become a high diver after witnessing such acts at the park. At eighteen, she leaves home for Florida where she trains with a lady high diver and soon becomes the Amazing Antoinette, traveling all over the country to different carnivals and amusement parks, diving off a 90-foot tower into a tank filled with six feet of water, sometimes while on fire. Her brother Jack takes an interest in art at first but enlists in the Army during the Korean War, returns home traumatized by battle, and becomes a writer. Eddie, inspired by his years of service in Hawaii during World War II, opens a restaurant specializing in food and drinks from the islands. The book ends in 1971 after Palisades Park is bought by a real estate conglomerate and turned into high-rise apartments. The author leaves us with the impression that life goes on.

This book reminded me of two amusement parks I visited when I was younger: Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, and Elich Gardens in Denver. I liked faris wheels and carousels but wasn’t too fond of roller coasters or haunted houses. I didn’t get much out of side shows due to my limited vision but would probably have been able to see someone diving off a 90-foot tower into a flaming tank while on fire. To learn more about Alan Brennert’s books, click this link

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On My Own by Diane Rehm. Copyright 2016.

 

In a memoir by this National Public Radio talk show host, she discusses her husband’s death, their life together, and how she manages without him. She starts by talking about how her husband John died in an assisted living facility after years of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. When it was clear no more could be done for him, he decided, with the support of his doctor, to starve himself. After ten agonizing days without food, water, or medication, he died peacefully in June of 2014.

Diane describes the memorial service and then shares many aspects of her life with John: how they met and married and lived together and raised two children, how her radio broadcasting career took off, and how John supported her through that and other trials and tribulations. She expresses guilt for moving John to an assisted living facility instead of giving up her career to care for him at home. After John’s death, she became involved in a movement to pass legislation to allow patients to die with the help of a physician. When NPR executives expressed ethical concerns, she was compelled to cut back on such activities. She also talks about her work to raise money for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research. She reflects on grief and her eminent retirement from broadcasting.

I downloaded this book from Audible and enjoyed the author’s narration. I could identify with the agony Diane felt in the ten days leading up to John’s death. Fortunately, my late husband Bill only lasted three days after it was determined the end of his life was near. Even with oxygen, he struggled. Many times during those three days, I wished he would just die so we both could be at peace. It wasn’t until he heard me play my guitar and sing his favorite songs for the last time that he felt he had permission to go.

Diane Rehm plans to retire from broadcasting sometime this year. Once free of National Public Radio’s ethical constraints, she plans to become more of an advocate for a patient’s right to die with a doctor’s help. Six states have already passed such legislation, and I hope that someday, all fifty states will allow residents to die with dignity. To learn more about The Diane Rehm Show, click here.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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