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KIRKUS REVIEW

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/charlene-wexler/elephants-in-the-room/

Wexler (Milk and Oranges, 2015, etc.) mixes humor, nostalgia, and reflection in her second collection of essays and short fiction.

The book opens with a recounting of a day in the life of a Chicago teen in 1959. The author offers a loving but cleareyed reminiscence of working in her father’s drugstore that sets the tone for the first section, which deals with her own coming-of-age in the late 1950s and early ’60s. The following sections take on different topics, including lighthearted memories of pets and general observations of human nature and life. The longest section, about family and friends, also contains the strongest piece in the book, “Loss and Grief,” which recounts the death of Wexler’s 12-year-old son from leukemia. She delves into her raw emotions of grieving, and particularly her anger: “The sun and I were angry all the time, but it was our secret.” A subsequent remembrance of the dog that helped Wexler through her grief suggests that this powerful theme could carry a full-length memoir. The final section, which includes several poems, takes on the weighty topics of growing older and mortality, but in a high-spirited way. In the last essay, “When I’m Gone,” Wexler plans her own funeral. Although many of the longer essays are affecting, some seem superficial, such as a brief perusal of an autograph book she found in a closet. Full-color photographs illustrate several selections, but other than some family photos, they don’t add much. A few short stories are mixed in with the essays and poetry; the title story, in which several cousins gather for a family funeral, reflects on the enduring strength of family bonds. “Band of Girls,” about a maverick running for president of her sorority in 1963, has a strong opening but no real resolution. These tales seem out of place next to the personal remembrances that make up the bulk of the book, and might have been better saved for a fiction collection.

Remembrances of a long life in an uneven but mostly satisfying collection.

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