THE LAST LOVELY CITY

A collection of 13 stories offers Adams's (Medicine Men, 1997, etc.) usual blend of intimacy and the good life but also heavily plays the aging card, as story after story returns to the discontents of the middle years and beyond. The title piece is a case in point: aged Benito, a retired physician who used his killing in San Francisco real estate to fund clinics in his native Mexico, is still mourning the recent death of his wife—until shaken from his funk by an invitation to a party, extended by a much younger woman. Although the party is full of the dirty old rich, with some of whom Benito shares a less-than-savory past, he finds hope for the future in the possibility that his date seems to like him. That is, before she reveals that she's affianced to the son of their hostess. Women of a certain age fare little better: in "Old Love Affairs," for instance, a woman "almost old but lively," having gone through several husbands already, has one man kissing her feet while she tries to attract the attention of another. In "The Islands," a woman rebounding from the death of her Berkeley bookseller husband goes to Hawaii with a man interested in her, but does so only a few days after putting her (and her husband's) dear old cat Pink to sleep, so that the trip, tinged with sadness, is ill-fated-once her present company's true feelings about felines becomes known. The most sustained effort here, a series of four linked stories, looks at the tangled emotions of a psychiatrist, his alcoholic pianist wife, and his lover (another psychiatrist) as over time they pair, part, and realign, finding a kind of wisdom but no great joy in the ultimate configuration. With melancholy seeping into them, these plans for renewal fail more often than they succeed, in a pattern artful but distressingly familiar by the last page.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0671036181

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

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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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