OPEN SECRETS

STORIES

With a few strokes of her pen, Munro (Friend of My Youth, 1990) has the unerring ability to familiarize us with a foreign country or the entire life of another person. Even if you've already read these latest stories in the New Yorker, you'll want to luxuriate in their gorgeous prose again and again. Munro's women must take repeated flight from the harshness of their realities — bad spinsterhood, worse marriages — into their imaginations, where wrongs are alternately redressed or allowed to fester into self-doubt and guilt. Louisa, the protagonist of "Carried Away," is a small Canadian town's lonely librarian who receives an unexpected letter (one of many tantalizing missives sent and received in this complex, multilayered collection) from the equally desolate Jack, a WW I soldier whom she has never met but who remembers her from the library and woos her through the mail. After the war, he never introduces himself in person, and she reads in the newspaper of his betrayal and marriage to another woman. Jack continues to be the obsession of her thoughts and actions when his head is severed from his body in a horrific accident at the piano factory where he works and Louisa plunges into a "normal" life and marries the factory's owner. Years later, when an elderly Louisa thinks she is having a conversation with an elderly Jack in town, we realize that Jack's death or even Jack himself may be a figment of her imagination. Similarly, we aren't quite sure if an old bag lady in Victoria, B.C., was kidnapped in her youth by Albanian tribesmen ("An Albanian Virgin"), if a woman in the 1850s Canadian wilderness actually murdered her husband, who may or may not have been abusing her ("A Wilderness Station"), or if a teenager who disappeared from a hike was murdered, kidnapped, or simply ran off with a guy she had the hots for ("Open Secrets"). In Munro's hands, fact is a stepsister to fiction and reality may have nothing in common with life's truths. Storytelling made essential by one of the true pros.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43575-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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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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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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