One of the best contemporary short-story writers in peak form.

In her fourth collection of gritty, grueling stories, the Illinois author (City Boy, 2004, etc.) emerges as something very like America’s Alice Munro.

Lives of girls and women (an early Munro title) are Thompson’s province. Its occupants include the high-school misfit (“The Brat”) whose defensive friendship with an obese, resentful classmate nurtures the kind of paranoid rage that erupts all too often in school shootings; a suburban mom (“The Woman Taken in Adultery”) whose willful quest for freedom only confirms the limits that constrain her; and the deeply conventional Iowa widow whose commitment to housewifely routine (“Pie of the Month”) ultimately cannot distance her from a world at war and threatened by ongoing radical change. Each of the 12 stories is precisely fashioned, distinguished by complex and unsparing characterizations and studded with metaphors made from the stuff of everyday life (“You never got to the place where you could stand back and admire your happiness like it was a picture on the wall”) and wry acknowledgements of the sheer drudgery of living (“You’re supposed to say the years flew by without your noticing but…I felt their shape and weight at every step”). Even when not at her best, as in a somewhat unfocused glimpse of a woman’s flight to Alaska from the married lover whom she nevertheless cannot forget (“The Inside Passage”), or the title story’s mixed-emotions memory of a female friend who succumbs to alcoholism and cancer, the tangle of these stories’ relationships, and their narrators’ urgent insistence to understand themselves and to be understood, is compelling. And in two great stories—a wrenching anatomy of infidelity and remarriage (“A Normal Life”) that memorably dramatizes the biblical parable that we reap what we sow, and a hilariously moving account of a middleclass clan (“The Family Barcus”) malformed and traumatized by its Babbitt-like dad—Thompson rivals Munro at her greatest.

One of the best contemporary short-story writers in peak form.

Pub Date: June 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4182-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2007



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



The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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