Very uneven, then, but never less than readable and engaging. Adams’s many admirers will welcome this generous display of...

The unbridgeable distances between even perfectly compatible people, and the difficulty of sustaining meaningful relationships are the dominant themes of this retrospective collection of 53 stories by the late (1926–99) author (After the War, 2000, etc.).

The typical Adams character is a woman alone, approaching or entering middle age, alternately tormented or sustained by memories of things or people loved and lost. It sounds like a formula for women’s magazine fiction, and at her weakest (too often in the later of her five published collections), Adams comes across as a wittier, more stylish purveyor of otherwise conventional anatomies of suburban marriage, adultery, divorce, and lingering regret. But she’s often very much better than this—especially when family dynamics edge out self-absorption, as in “The Swastika on Our Door,” about a German-American woman’s observation of the strange symbiotic bonding of her small-minded husband and his moribund brother, and “Roses, Rhododendron” (arguably her finest piece), in which a Boston girl living in the South falls in love with a seemingly perfect, in fact dangerously unstable, family. Stories like these, which stretch her range, tend to disguise a bland style almost devoid of figurative language or other verbal originality. Read more than two or three of her stories at a time, and their similarities become glaring. Still, stunning little successes keep cropping up: the Dorothy Parker–like look at a former “Beautiful Girl,” still poised and confident despite creeping middle age and alcoholism; the rich characterization of a morose commuter repeatedly drawn to the wrong bus, and the seductive presences of its “Greyhound People”; the ambitious later stories “Related Histories” and “Truth or Consequences” and perhaps a dozen or so others.

Very uneven, then, but never less than readable and engaging. Adams’s many admirers will welcome this generous display of her work.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41285-9

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002



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

Close Quickview