A quick look at recent releases

  • Updated: March 7, 2011 - 7:06 AM

Reviews: 'Minding Frankie' and 'Unbearable Lightness'

MINDING FRANKIE

By Maeve Binchy (Alfred A. Knopf, 383 pages, $26.95)

The prolific and beloved Maeve Binchy, bless her big Irish heart, is secretly subversive. Her comfy ensemble novels -- mostly set in Dublin -- usually involve a woman finding herself, and a woman (sometimes the same one) finding love. But they also quietly deal with some of the thorniest social issues of our times. She does this by creating a warm sense of normalcy -- her stories are populated by gay characters, single moms, alcoholics, battered women, lonely people and adulterers, but she doesn't make a big deal about any of it. It's just life. In "Minding Frankie," her millionth book (OK, only her 21st or so), she weaves together a couple of story lines. Ne'er-do-well Noel, a shiftless alcoholic who lives with his parents, finds out he's about to become a father, following a one-night stand he has no memory of. Emily, his American cousin and one of those quintessentially Binchy characters, comes to visit and immediately makes a million friends, solves a million problems and finds herself pretty much an indispensable part of the neighborhood. And then there's Moira, the sourpuss social worker who is convinced that some sort of child abuse or neglect is taking place, and who devotes herself to uncovering it. There's conflict and heartache in this book, but no real darkness. Binchy's world view is a large, benevolent one, and the reader is happier for it.

LAURIE HERTZEL, BOOKS EDITOR

UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS

By Portia de Rossi (Atria Books, 305 pages, $25.99)

Actress Portia de Rossi, known for her television roles on "Ally McBeal" and "Arrested Development," chronicles her tortured trip into anorexia and other eating disorders with candor and insight. The book begins in her Australian childhood and her desire to be special. She changes her name, she's a track star, she becomes a model and then an actress who moves to Los Angeles in search of the big career. She soon learns in humiliating fashion that a size 8 is all but grotesque in the modeling world and so begins her work of whittling herself down through obsessive exercise and starvation. She evinces no self-pity as she tells of the long path back from eating disorders that parallels her tentative steps out of the closet as a lesbian woman. De Rossi is now married to comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. It's tempting to groan over at a celebrity memoir about triumph over adversity. But De Rossi has written an insightful book and her conclusions hit hard. The final two chapters are the most powerful as she describes her depths, then the uneasy processing of healing and learning to love and appreciate her entire self. "My two greatest fears, being fat and being gay, when realized, led to my greatest joy," she writes.

ROCHELLE OLSON, NEWS REPORTER

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