Promising vision and a powerful start.



Eight debut tales that have emerged from a wacky modern world.

Bauman’s stories catch the frail wave of pop culture but ride it smoothly, not relying on its zaniness to bring interest to her characters. “The Middle of the Night” follows a precocious child as she struggles toward adulthood in a family disintegrating under the weight of alcoholism; the reader watches her indulge in midnight phone conversations with her father’s estranged mistress. In “Wash, Rinse, Spin,” a law school student is yanked from her modern life to attend to the chores involved in assisting in the care of her vibrant but degenerating father; the title story tags along behind an ultramodern high-school cheerleader who doesn’t have enough fingers to count the men at the football game she’s slept with as she navigates a world also populated with Jung and Henry James. A girl with a lousy personality in “True” encounters the prettiest boy alive (“Worse yet, he knew how to be pretty. He wore his prettiness like a smart jacket”) and, once alone, the two discover the only thing in the world better than being nice. And a woman’s breakdown in a New York City office in “Wildlife in America” leads her to migrate to New Jersey, where pop culture is sufficiently suffused, and a hold-up at a minimart just might bring true love. These pieces all have their foundation in solid storytelling but stray from it in just the same way that pop culture seems to have strayed away from aesthetic purity. Bauman is on a trek similar to Mary Robison’s or Grace Paley’s in her painting of a world where the representation of a thing has become as important as the thing itself: “Inggy was the most beautiful girl on the poster, although there was more to it than that. On that windy November day she was there in her photo, fully herself.”

Promising vision and a powerful start.

Pub Date: March 5, 2003

ISBN: 1-931561-35-4

Page Count: 196

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet