Still, a rewarding volume that deserves recognition.

FEMALE TROUBLE

STORIES

A heavily lauded novelist and short-story writer (Family Terrorists, 1994, etc.) proves she’s got staying power with an impressive fourth collection.

The snarky title suggests that some not-so-good situations may be coming up, and in more than a few of the tales, Nelson’s women try to revisit pasts that have disappeared and yet retain a strange resonance over their present lives. In “Incognito,” a girl from Wichita, with her high-school friends, lives a whole life of subterfuge. Easily duping their parents, they rent an apartment, shoplift, even go drinking with the local cops. Years later, the narrator moves back to Wichita and looks for her old gang. In “Palisades,” a young mother leaves her midlife-crisis husband in LA and comes with her baby to the New Mexico town she remembered visiting with her family as a child. There, she befriends a married couple—one a doctor, the other a psychologist—each having an affair unbeknownst to the other. While this setup has all the hallmarks of a poor piece of therapy fiction, Nelson keeps the pathos at bay and clearly delineates the lives and desires of three people trying to dig their way out of unhappy lives, quietly, so as not to upset anyone else. “The Other Daughter” revisits the same Kansas teenage wasteland that’s in “Incognito,” but this time inhabiting the skin of a bored, self-hating adolescent girl condemned to being ignored by her parents and jealous of her glamorous-seeming older sister, who has two boyfriends and does modeling for local stores. There’s a sweaty anger to its pages that gets under your skin in a way that many of Nelson’s stories don’t. Always exquisitely sculpted and unerringly precise, the worst you could say about this collection is that it occasionally holds its characters at a remove.

Still, a rewarding volume that deserves recognition.

Pub Date: April 22, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-1871-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

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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