Moving easily between blue-collar types and Social Register summer people, New Age dancers and Old World immigrants, underground poets and Elvis freaks, newcomer Davis (coeditor with Michael C. White, of the American Fiction series) demonstrates an impressive range in this debut collection of 12 stories. The pieces fall roughly into two groups: Those dealing with problem relationships between spouses or lovers, and those in which characters work to recover the past. The relationship stories capture the edgy back-and-forth of couples in crisis, whether Bruce and Lydia in ``Incoming Rounds,'' Hugh and Deb in ``Raccoons,'' or Annie and Doug in ``Sidewalks White Like Bones,'' though their obsessions (Bruce's Vietnam thing, Annie's immersion in New Age culture) sometimes extrude awkwardly. Where Davis comes into his own is with his stories of death, disappearance and loss; here the survivors try to reconnect with the past. In the moving ``AWOL,'' Leon, a Chicago roofer, struggling to make sense of his son's desertion in the Philippines, courageously keeps on keeping on; Sidney, in ``Waiting for Ruth,'' stubbornly maintains his vigil for his drowned lover; teenage Diane, racked with pain over the death of big sister Melinda, escapes into fantasy in ``Growing Wings.'' Those are losing battles; the victories belong to the narrator of ``Shooting the Moon,'' who restores his dead grandfather, a feisty nonconformist, to the family pantheon (a tender portrait, clear as a bell), and the mother in ``Ramparts Street'' (the collection's standout), who celebrates, at her daughter's behest, the rout of two federal agents by her Italian immigrant parents in New Orleans in 1942. Here past and present are seamlessly conflated in a triumph of technique and sensibility. Davis's sure touch with parents and children reflects his greatest strength—an acute sense of what keeps us all afloat in the sea of time.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-89823-142-6

Page Count: 113

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993



It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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