Bloom’s precisely observed, rhetorically nervy stories sometimes strain our credulity—but they burrow unerringly into her...

A second collection of eight gritty, wisecracking, rudely contemporary urban stories from the Connecticut psychotherapist and highly praised author (Come to Me, 1993; Love Invents Us, 1997).

Bloom specializes in relationships threatened by their participants’ retreats into their own interiors or destroyed by enigmatic acts of both God and wayward mortals. Her characters are sharp-witted, imperturbably bitchy (often Jewish) (mostly) women who say things like “Happy Day of Atonement” and “straight men are for putting up sheetrock.” And, in her most fully imagined pieces, she briskly pulls rugs out from under people crazy enough to think their lives are ordered and secure. There’s the title story’s single mother who meekly accepts accumulating evidence that her tomboyish daughter was meant to be a boy—and makes arrangements for the “gender surgery” that will alter her own life just as radically. There’s also the rootless black man of the paired stories “Night Vision” and “Light into Dark,” whose single teenaged sexual experience with his white stepmother reshapes his life into a futile quest for commitment and self-respect. Even more affecting are the adulterous narrator of “The Gates Are Closing,” wryly monitoring her married lover’s gradual surrender to the ravages of Parkinson’s; the bereaved mother who finds through a Pediatric Volunteer Program an unlikely focus for her frustrated instinctual love (in “Stars at Elbow and Foot”); and especially the unconventional triangle of the superb “Rowing to Eden,” an icily compact story that accomplishes, in scarcely 20 pages, replete and resonant characterizations of a dispassionate cancer victim, her helplessly sweet and attentive husband, and the lesbian friend whose selfless love for them both breeds in her a strength beyond their understanding.

Bloom’s precisely observed, rhetorically nervy stories sometimes strain our credulity—but they burrow unerringly into her people’s damaged hearts and worried minds with intensity every bit as compassionate as it is clinical.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50268-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000



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