Admirable in its broad sweep of Mason’s estimable career as a writer and likely as good a gathering as there could be—if,...

PATCHWORK

A sturdy introduction to the multifaceted work of Kentucky laureate Mason (Nancy Culpepper: Stories, 2006, etc.).

People are always going places they don’t want to go in Mason’s tales. In her lovely novel In Country, it’s a mother traveling, much against her will at first, with her granddaughter and her son’s best friend to the wall in Washington to reckon with the death of her boy in Vietnam: “Mamaw lets loose a stream as loud as a cow’s. This trip is crazy. It reminds Sam of that Chevy Chase movie about a family on vacation, with an old woman tagging along.” In “Shiloh,” the 1982 story that announced Mason’s arrival on the literary scene, it’s a reluctant wife finally giving in to her mother-in-law’s demand that she visit the Tennessee battlefield, where her husband learns that he’s been missing a big part of their story: “History was always just names and dates to him….And the real inner workings of a marriage, like most of history, have escaped him.” Of course, sometimes people do go places they mean to: There’s Paducah, Kentucky, for instance, “a provincial town with a funny name, but here in the western end of the state it was never an inconsequential place.” Whether story or novel, essay or review, Mason’s work is characterized by closely realized detail, sympathy with the players involved, and, usually, sharp but good-natured humor: When a Kentucky girl decides to take a year off from school in the story “Bumblebees” and head off to exotic Lexington, she says, “Look, think of this as junior year abroad, O.K.? Except I won’t be speaking French.” Mason’s reader-friendly appreciation of Mark Twain, a writer she much resembles, also rings absolutely true: “He’s very contemporary, I think, because in his time he saw so far ahead, as if he were looking right at us.”

Admirable in its broad sweep of Mason’s estimable career as a writer and likely as good a gathering as there could be—if, for a fan, too short.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8131-7545-4

Page Count: 478

Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

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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