For the Stephen King fan in the house: an author as capable, if a touch less prolific.


Atmospheric, sometimes-nightmarish tales by the ever macabre Evenson (Windeye, 2012, etc.).

What do you do when, in a waking dream—or, better, a dream from which waking seems impossible—you have to defend yourself from a spectral figure that’s flitting through your pad? If you’re one of Evenson’s characters, you might not have the resources or the will to keep a gun handy. And what good would a gun do against a ghost, anyway? So you grab, naturally, a book, “the largest and heaviest one in the stack,” and hope for the best. But does that shadowy, scary figure even exist? There’s the question. So it is that in one story in this collection, “Click,” its very title filled with ominous portent, the protagonist is suffering brain trauma and cannot remember something most terrible that he has done. But is he really damaged or just crazy or just imagining it all? Evenson leaves the reader guessing so that we’re not sure whether to be relieved or alarmed when the doctor gets ready to drill holes for the steel plate in the skull. Drills and other such tools are things to be worried about, of course, as are Evenson’s foreshadowings: when a character begins remembering how his dad deftly slaughtered a pig—“You pull the bastard up and hold it and don’t pay no mind to how it struggles”—then you know that nothing good can come of it. Evenson’s stories, small masterworks of literary horror, are elegantly tense. They operate in psychological territory, never relying on grossness or slasher silliness to convey their scariness; they’re more like the Japanese horror of Pulse than the sanguinary adventures of Freddy Krueger, though they have the same watch-between-the-fingers quality.

For the Stephen King fan in the house: an author as capable, if a touch less prolific.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-56689-413-5

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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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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