The twelve stories in Bukoski’s (Children of Strangers, 1993, etc.) third collection portray life among the Polish-Americans of Superior, Wisconsin. Anyone who’s ever driven through the Midwest and noticed how polkas supplant country & western music on the car radio once you get near the old industrial towns of the Great Lakes will wonder why there isn—t more fiction like Bukoski’s. All of his characters are immigrants or the children of immigrants, most with a living memory of the Old Country, and each seems adept at the art of confession. The narrator of “Pesthouse,” for example, recalls her merchant seaman father’s long absence during WWII and his increasingly unbalanced obsession with Jews as the source of her scarlet fever shortly after his return. “The Absolution of Hedda Borski” is a dying woman’s account of her taking in an abandoned child to compensate for the miscarriage she suffered as a young woman. “The World at War” describes the generational conflict between Antek Drabowski and his son Eddie: Antek, who served in the Coast Guard during WWII, disapproves of his son’s involvement in the “police action” of Vietnam. “Bird of Passage” is a comic tale of an elderly widower’s attempts to find a new wife (—He feared, when he assumed the “male-dominant position,” that his upper plate might fall out on her despite the Poli-Grip—). The collection’s best piece, though, is “The Tools of Ignorance,” the bittersweet memoirs of Augie (the “Kielbasa Kid—) Wyzinski. Now a bartender at the aptly named Heartbreak Hotel, Augie started out as a ballplayer for local teams and was eventually signed up by the San Francisco Giants, only to end washing out in the minor leagues. Elegiac and restrained, the piece sets the tone for the entire volume. Nicely paced, vivid, and almost obsessive in its attention to a specific locale: Bukoski’s work opens up a world that deserves more spectators.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-87074-434-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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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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