An imaginatively sculpted collection of absurdist concepts applied liberally to the equally preposterous notion of growing...

Mischievous Native Americans, melancholy clowns and zealous history re-enactors are just a few of the strange and curious denizens of this debut short story collection.

There’s even a sasquatch to be found in the title story by award-winning essayist Hollars (Creative Writing/University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Thirteen Loops, 2011). Along the way, the author uses a clever array of monstrosities and startling imagery to cast an eerie light on the tropes of coming-of-age. The first story is the most subtle, as “Indian Village” finds a band of suburban teens at war with an invading tribe. “Schooners” is a finely-spun confessional whose main point seems to be its punch line. Other stories are laden with broad comedy laced with just a little sadness. “Westward Expansion” tells the story of a boy whose father is obsessed with a distant relative who traversed the Oregon Trail and delivers much suffering onto his family in the name of Manifest Destiny. “Sightings” and “The Clowns” also make much hay out of traditional nightmares. In the former, a true-to-life sasquatch is recruited to the local basketball team and even gets to take a girl to the prom. In the latter, a family of nose-honking, big-shoed jesters is forced to move in with relatives after the death of their son. Other missing children figure prominently in the last two stories. “Robotics” finds a boy building a mechanical replica of his dead brother out of a vacuum. “Missing Mary” is the story of a disappearance—the awful, senseless absence of a girl—with a leaden final passage: “Years later, as Mary’s sister sits silently in chemistry class, science will give her an answer: My sister has simply turned soluable,” Hollars writes. “A moment there and then gone.” All of these stories represent a talented tightrope walk between genres and a gentle lesson in craftsmanship for aspiring storytellers.

An imaginatively sculpted collection of absurdist concepts applied liberally to the equally preposterous notion of growing up.

Pub Date: March 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-253-00838-1

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013




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


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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