As arch as the lives depicted here are, Lee’s pinpoint accuracy for the right word and perfect tone bring a universal truth...

Stories of transcontinental romance and displacement from New Yorker writer Lee (the novel Sarah Phillips, not reviewed).

As befits its title, Lee’s collection is filled to bursting with interesting women: “Interesting women—are we ever going to be free of them? I meet them everywhere these days, now that there is no longer such a thing as an interesting man.” So opens the title story, as a mother vacationing at a beachside hotel in Thailand with her 12-year-old daughter meets up with one such woman. She’s a fiftysomething divorced adventuress who calls herself Silver (apparently among other names). The story is little more than the mother’s burgeoning fascination with Silver’s wayward manners and aloof disdain for conventionality, but it’s an engaging read nonetheless. There are rarely conclusions in Lee’s tales, which tend to float away on a single, crystallized moment. Her protagonists on the whole are frightfully well-educated, high-bred American women abroad, with maybe a fashionable child or two and a European husband—Italian, usually, and almost always wealthy. A pair of stories, “The Birthday Party” and “About Fog and Cappuccino,” feature interesting women of this sort to whom nothing terribly interesting happens—not a bad thing, since Lee easily enthralls with the smallest description or observation, and her knowledge of this lifestyle is intoxicatingly thorough. But just when you’ve had about enough of Americans just a bit too impressed with how well they’ve adopted Italian customs, she throws out a curveball like “The Golden Chariot,” a theatrical reminiscence of an African-American family’s cross-country vacation ca. 1962, or “Anthropology,” in which a journalist is excoriated by her cousin for an article she wrote on the customs of the remote North Carolina community their family hailed from.

As arch as the lives depicted here are, Lee’s pinpoint accuracy for the right word and perfect tone bring a universal truth to these stories about the—well, the more interesting sex.

Pub Date: April 16, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-50586-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002



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

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