Not Bloom at her very best, but impressive enough confirmation of this clever writer’s ability to challenge the way we see...



Nine uncollected stories plus three that appeared in earlier collections are interestingly arranged and recombined in this latest from the Manhattan psychotherapist and versatile author (Away, 2008, etc.).

The first four chronicle the adulterous relationship, then the sad late-life marriage of 50-somethings Clare and William, who find amorous moments together during shared vacations and visits to and with each other’s unsuspecting spouses. Bloom’s plainspoken, witty prose is displayed to fine effect in unglamorous snapshot revelations of self-indulgent, heart-attack-waiting-to-happen William and weary, unillusioned Clare (who sardonically asks herself, “What has it ever been between them but the rubbing of two broken wings?”). Four other interrelated stories span years of familial and less conventional love between Julia, a music journalist who becomes a black jazz musician’s third wife, then his widow, and his son and namesake Lionel, a biracial heartthrob who is drawn much too closely into intimacy with his grieving stepmother. Except for the last of these four, in which Lionel is both further injured and paradoxically healed by his weakness and guilt, this is an original and moving dramatization of the complex burdens of togetherness and independence, soaring ambition and muted resignation. The remaining unrelated stories—which seem to belong in another book—are a mixed bag. “Permafrost” suggestively links a hospital social worker’s compassionate identification with a young girl’s sufferings to the former’s lifelong fascination with the historic Shackleton Arctic expedition. “Between here and here” and “By-and-By” deal somewhat melodramatically with family-related traumas. But in the wry title story, stoic survival is persuasively incarnated in a saturnine widower who takes botched relationships, failing bodily functions, even “women OD’ing on coke in front of their children” phlegmatically in stride.

Not Bloom at her very best, but impressive enough confirmation of this clever writer’s ability to challenge the way we see ourselves and to show us as we are.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6357-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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