When Coughlan eases up on the cleverness and shows his heart, his unique imagination shines through—but unfortunately, this...

WATTLE & DAUB

Very brief stories with an absurdist flair comprise this debut collection from Ireland.

Coughlan’s first book is full of men coming up on middle age who find themselves in bizarre circumstances. “Human Butterfly” features a company employee who decides to confront his office naked after being newly fired. In “Re-Union,” a husband and father must deal with a surprise nocturnal visit from some drunken school chums. The male protagonist in the distressing “Ill Conceived” falls pregnant from his wife and gives birth to an alarm clock through his anus. This latter detail gives a clear sense of where Coughlan’s humor lies, and when given the choice between writing from the heart or landing a pun, Coughlan will almost always choose the latter. (One story is called “Interview with a Campfire.”) Puns are not the only quirk of style here. The stories are heavily descriptive and lightly plotted. Sometimes this works, as in the opening story, “A Nuisance,” in which a teenage girl spends long paragraphs trying to kill a fly only to later find herself in a similarly hunted position in the car of an older man. Sometimes it creates stories that seem to be, like Seinfeld, about nothing, as in “Enhanced Forgiveness,” about a man who buys a new golf club and…goes golfing. With an average page count clocking in around 10, Coughlan’s stories, with their antic energy and over-the-top premises, can feel a little like the bumper cars he describes in the final story, “F-unfair,” “with a madman at the controls sending you head-first into a collision that will wipe the smile off the faces of everyone involved.”

When Coughlan eases up on the cleverness and shows his heart, his unique imagination shines through—but unfortunately, this happens too rarely here.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9987508-3-5

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Etruscan Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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Hoover is one of the freshest voices in new-adult fiction, and her latest resonates with true emotion, unforgettable...

MAYBE SOMEDAY

Sydney and Ridge make beautiful music together in a love triangle written by Hoover (Losing Hope, 2013, etc.), with a link to a digital soundtrack by American Idol contestant Griffin Peterson. 

Hoover is a master at writing scenes from dual perspectives. While music student Sydney is watching her neighbor Ridge play guitar on his balcony across the courtyard, Ridge is watching Sydney’s boyfriend, Hunter, secretly make out with her best friend on her balcony. The two begin a songwriting partnership that grows into something more once Sydney dumps Hunter and decides to crash with Ridge and his two roommates while she gets back on her feet. She finds out after the fact that Ridge already has a long-distance girlfriend, Maggie—and that he's deaf. Ridge’s deafness doesn’t impede their relationship or their music. In fact, it creates opportunities for sexy nonverbal communication and witty text messages: Ridge tenderly washes off a message he wrote on Sydney’s hand in ink, and when Sydney adds a few too many e’s to the word “squee” in her text, Ridge replies, “If those letters really make up a sound, I am so, so glad I can’t hear it.” While they fight their mutual attraction, their hope that “maybe someday” they can be together playfully comes out in their music. Peterson’s eight original songs flesh out Sydney’s lyrics with a good mix of moody musical styles: “Living a Lie” has the drama of a Coldplay piano ballad, while the chorus of “Maybe Someday” marches to the rhythm of the Lumineers. But Ridge’s lingering feelings for Maggie cause heartache for all three of them. Independent Maggie never complains about Ridge’s friendship with Sydney, and it's hard to even want Ridge to leave Maggie when she reveals her devastating secret. But Ridge can’t hide his feelings for Sydney long—and they face their dilemma with refreshing emotional honesty. 

Hoover is one of the freshest voices in new-adult fiction, and her latest resonates with true emotion, unforgettable characters and just the right amount of sexual tension.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5316-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

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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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