Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object
By Kathleen Rooney
University of Arkansas Press / 200 pages / $22.50
Aside from the thrill (and chill) of getting naked, there's not much to nude modeling. And yet for Kathleen Rooney, this experience has become the basis of a compelling memoir that blends observation, personal revelation and scholarly inquiry.
A poet, professor and author of four other books, Rooney supplemented her income for six years as a nude model. As we watch her pose, Rooney examines nude modeling from every angle: historical, sociological and biographical. She explores the territory between female beauty and intelligence, art and pornography, object and observer - even the border between life and death - with insight and passion.
The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks
By Robin Romm
Scribner / 224 pages / $22
When Jackie Romm was succumbing to breast cancer, she did not have to rage against the dying of the light. Her daughter was there to do it for her.
Robin Romm, an accomplished author, was 19 when her mother, a dynamic woman and civil rights lawyer in Oregon, was diagnosed. It would be nine hard-fought years before Jackie died, and Robin focuses on her final days.
Her first book, a story collection called The Mother Garden, drew praise for its dark humor and lack of sentimentality. This one, not intended for publication when it was begun, has those qualities and sharply observed surreal details.
Romm's willingness to expose herself is brave and may bring solace to others too savaged by grief to let a loved one "go gentle into that good night."
Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love
By Debra Gwartney
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / 224 pages / $24
Tales of teens gone wild are as ubiquitous as adolescents with a bad attitude. Less common are books that deal with the complex and often contradictory feelings that parents have when their kids go wrong. Debra Gwartney nails the subject in Live Through This.
Gwartney's focus is on her own role in stoking and enduring the alienation that sent her girls on the road. She charts the anger and worry that evolved into self-recrimination and resentment toward two bright and attractive girls as they turned themselves into punked-out dopers.
Live Through This doesn't end with their return. Rather, as Gwartney shows, their presence is as draining as their absence.