Brief, macabre stories that twist our obsessions with animals and our own thoughts. Like Poe for the new millennium.


The borders between the animal, human, and spirit worlds are constantly breached in these creepy magical realist tales of grief and obsession.

Dávila’s 12 short stories begin with “Moses and Gaspar,” about Señor Kraus, who returns to his dead brother’s apartment to collect the dogs he left behind. Moses and Gaspar become a complicated “inheritance from [his] unforgettable brother.” Many creatures are more human than animal in Dávila’s work, and the dogs' “screams” disturb Kraus’ neighbors, while Kraus becomes increasingly animalistic. The dogs' grief comes to wreck his life. Similar connections to the animal world are found in other stories; “The Houseguest” features a jealous wife and an unnamed visitor her husband brings home: “His nourishment was limited entirely to meat; he wouldn’t touch anything else.” He hovers over the sleeping members of the house, watching them, until eventually the wife is driven mad. In “Oscar,” a family lives to serve a dictatorial creature who controls all who enter the house from his place in the cellar: “He was the first to eat and allowed no one to taste their food before him. He knew everything, saw everything. He shook the iron door of the cellar with fury, and shouted when something displeased him. At night he indicated, with sounds and signs of objection, when he wanted them to go to bed, and often when he wanted them to get up. He ate large amounts, voraciously, and without enjoyment…grotesquely.” Dávila’s animals are humanized—familiar to anyone who has lived with a cat or a dog—but their holds on the humans of her stories are tyrannical. Other tales deal with the power of the imagination to create real fear: “Fragment of a Diary” is a series of meditations on degrees of pain by a character who wishes to develop tolerance as an art. In “End of a Struggle,” Durán witnesses himself walking by with a former lover, then follows to see his other life.

Brief, macabre stories that twist our obsessions with animals and our own thoughts. Like Poe for the new millennium.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2821-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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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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