Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

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Debut author Mitchell offers a collection of seven Arkansas-based tales that explore the somber sides of marriage, familial relationships, and everyday life.

In the opening story, “Animal Lovers,” a woman named Dee insists on taking custody of the dogs, Ralph and Mickey, when she divorces her husband, Carter. But when the canines’ behavioral issues escalate, she thinks that she might be better off without them, after all. Mitchell’s book is filled with characters relentlessly finding flaws in themselves and others—including flaws that aren’t there. For example, Tonya in “Pyramid Schemes” is certain that her spouse, Randy, disapproves of her weight, although he’s given no indication of that. Likewise, in “Retreat,” Layton suspects that his co-worker Gary is one of the three baseball-bat–wielding assailants who beat him in a dark parking lot months before, though he has no proof of this. These imperfect characters are continually intriguing, as is the conflicted protagonist who robs a bank in “This Trailer is Free,” who’s unquestionably sympathetic. However, these stories aren’t entirely humorless. High schooler Libby, for instance, narrates “Not from Here” in a delightfully blunt voice; regarding Ronnie, a bus driver she befriends, she notes, “I think sometimes that he might make a good husband, but I’m not in love with him and I don’t expect I will be.” The author’s stark writing style examines details with an unflinching eye, much as the characters do, and the occasional moments of violence are haunting. The stories are linked not only by their common location, but also by recurring players, which allows for unexpected, additional character development. For instance, Dee returns in “Retreat,” which further delves into a relationship that was mentioned in her earlier tale.

Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9988014-6-9

Page Count: 190

Publisher: WTAW Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018



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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