A strange, darkly humorous trip into the female psyche.




The complex emotional lives of women and girls are explored in this riveting collection.

Betrayal as the weapon of choice for the female of the species is a recurring theme in these 11 free-standing stories. In “Brides,” a teen appearing in a high-school production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers gets used by both the ruthless leading lady and the drama teacher besotted with her. “Allegiance” features a young British-born girl who, after moving to an American suburb with her troubled parents, gets an unforgettable lesson in the costs—and rewards—of becoming a mean girl. Self-destruction, too, has its place in Kyle’s world as Lilly, the bright but unhappy young woman at the center of “Company of Strangers,” exemplifies. On the day her father dies, she takes her brother’s children to a theme restaurant and ends up in a kinky clinch with their pirate-costumed waiter, while the kids are in the next room. There is also the hard-drinking underachiever of the title story who hides out in a dead-end town waiting for her married boyfriend to come visit, only to be shocked out of her lethargy by an unlikely friendship with her troubled teen neighbor. The most conventionally hopeful story is told from an adolescent boy’s point of view, as he comes of age (but not like that) during an incredibly awkward cruise vacation in “Captain’s Club.” Throughout, Kyle (The God of Animals, 2007) shows a talent for exposing the hurt at the heart of our worst impulses. And she doesn’t judge. Her haunting characters, with their vulnerability and cruelty, live on in the imagination.

A strange, darkly humorous trip into the female psyche.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9480-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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