For Christmas I asked for The Life of Margaret Laurence by James King (Knopf) because I had read the reviews and articles that were published upon the book's release, and they piqued my interest in a literary icon whose life story I had always believed was rather bland. The articles reported on King's revelation that Laurence took her own life, rather than—as had been popularly believed—finally losing the battle against cancer. In fact, as the book reveals, Laurence seems to have done both. But the book didn't live up to my expectations. King does take much care in illustrating Laurence's personal strength, and the price she paid for her dedication to her writing. But what is missing is a sense of the human Margaret Laurence, as she might have been perceived or understood by friends or family—people who tried to know her well. Indeed, King appears to have received little tangible assistance from those close to Laurence, taking much of his factual and anecdotal information from letters and documents rather than from live sources. King himself rarely chooses to draw conclusions, offer his own insights or lay himself on the line as an observer of this life, possibly because as a male academic he has realized his precarious position. He is, after all, writing the life story of a woman who, like her fictional heroines, refused throughout her life to be defined by male authority. As a result, King writes with a sense of distance from his subject as if to assure the reader that he claims no position of authority. Sadly, this results in a flat and unemotional read.