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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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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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