Thirteen vivid, scabrous, and noisy stories from the Mississippi romantic whose earlier volumes (Airships, 1978; Bats Out of Hell, 1993) contained most of the essentials, and even some of the particulars, of the more recent pieces gathered here. The characters in Hannah's rowdy tales are almost always the same: Eccentric misfits or disaffected intellectuals who are afflicted by love and lust the way Flannery O'Connor's people are obsessed with God and religion. Booze and regrets are key elements in this latest collection, which differs from Hannah's previous work only in its nagging emphasis on midlife crisis. Even in the slightest stories (e.g., ``The Ice Storm'' and ``Ned Maxy, He Watching You''), the sense of wasted opportunity and of a persistent longing for a better life are almost always preternaturally strong. We seem to be hearing, with minimal narrative variations, the ongoing confession of a single self- castigating protagonist. The best tales include ``Get Some Young,'' in which a moody Korean War vet and his moodier wife are transformed by their encounter with a handsome young boy; ``Carriba,'' about a former journalist who tries to bring peace to a family traumatized by mass murders; and the affecting ``Drummer Down,'' which portrays a would-be-writer who killed himself and vibrates thereafter in the memory of his more ``successful'' friend. Most memorable of all is ``Uncle High Lonesome,'' the first-person story of a boy who simultaneously idolizes and despises the title character, a romantic hunter and boorish racist. It takes off onto an exhilarating higher level with the narrator's revelation that his uncle once murdered a man, and that the murder and its attendant guilt has become a kind of inheritance passed down through the generations. When Hannah's stories are really about something—other than the omnipresent comic-depressive mood that has long dominated his fiction—they can get under your skin and haunt you. Only fitfully, however, are such sparks struck here. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-87113-668-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996



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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