A heavy-hitting emotional exploration of the ways lives can change in single moments.


Foster (God Is an Astronaut, 2014) explores people and relationships on the razor’s edge in this collection of moving short stories.

In each of the seven stories that make up this slim volume, the author places the reader directly into a workaday reality on the very cusp of changing forever. In the opening story, “The Theory of Clouds,” a couple’s secret is discovered when a group of outsiders arrives in a small, suspicious town. The title story zeroes in on a woman looking for direction while working the early shift at a local swimming pool. “The Place of the Holy” takes place at a home-turned–women’s shelter, where a young girl struggles to get the attention she needs from her mother. In concise and moving stories, the author creates compelling and unique characters with rich histories in the space of just a few pages. But what makes this collection electric is the endings. Each story cuts away just as it becomes clear that these people’s worlds have been changed, that the breaking point has been reached, and that whatever happens next could determine the course of their lives. Foster leaves each story at the exact moment when the reader wants more, a decision that could be woefully disappointing if not for her masterful use of tension and language. These short stories are brief windows opening into private moments of hope, pain, and struggle, and the decision to leave the reader guessing about what happens next underlines the universality of such quiet, impactful experiences.

A heavy-hitting emotional exploration of the ways lives can change in single moments.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-543-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet