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. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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