AFTER YOU'VE GONE

It's too bad that Adams titled this new collection (her fourth) after the weakest of the 14 stories here—a smug monograph narrated by a jilted lawyer and directed at her poet ex-lover—because it may discourage Adams fans from delving further to sift out a few scattered gems. In "Fog," for instance, as a small mishap redirects that start of a San Francisco dinner party and ends up changing the course of a few lives, it's pure Adams, toppling the exquisite social order to get to the dark—and often funny—truths below the surface. In "Ocracoke Island," elderly professor Duncan Elliott, on a visit to Manhattan, is a stirring, sharply etched character as he plods from meeting to meeting, worrying about his dental problems and spreading his tale of woe: recently, his fourth wile, Cath, has run off with another man to live on Ocracoke Island, a place that now looms large in Duncan's imagination. And "1940: FALL," like an earlier Adams story, "Roses Rhododendron," deftly captures a childhood memory about belonging, at least temporarily, to someone else's world. At her best, then, Adams knows just how to put love through the prism of social convention so that it shimmers back at us refracted into its separate parts—lust, pity, jealousy, need. But too often the kind of narrative shorthand she increasingly relies on (where physical descriptions fill in for emotions and memories are weightier than actions, and all the missing pieces are explained with parentheses) gets in her way. Stories like "A Sixties Romance" and "What to Wear" are so thin and mannered that they might be Adams parodies. Overall, worthwhile for those willing to sort the jewels from the strass—when she wants to, Adams can really sparkle.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1989

ISBN: 0449218813

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1989

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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