An accomplished debut collection of seven stories demonstrates the versatility of novelist Brown (The Hatbox Baby, 2000, etc.).

The images of these tales are familiar, but their emotion is not. In “Friend to Women,” a middle-aged woman confronts her fading allure and her mortality when she and her husband rent a house near where she grew up; a young artist’s lifelong project of constructing his hometown at scale in “Miniature Man” explains the nature of meaning to the doctor who narrates; a woman’s personal transformation from meaninglessness to content is revealed through her friendship with her daughter’s pen pal in “The Correspondent”; “Father Judge Run” is a dreamy coming-of-age piece featuring a parrot that quotes the Bible; another come-of-ager, “Postman,” is a dual effort and a love story besides, as a young boy and girl find that the company of the other makes the prospect of adulthood bearable and mystically exciting. Reading Brown is like eating a wonderful meal at a restaurant you know so well you can taste the style of the chef. The plots are often sweet, though what they produce in these characters’ minds may not be. In the title story, a macabre pseudo–fairy tale about a woman who accidentally winds up as a Dr. Frankenstein-like undertaker (happily recalling Graham Swift), our narrator speaks as though for the entire volume: “However little I have earned the attention of history, at least it can be said that I have been a faithful guard at the door, that I have sensed, always sensed, the obliterating force of time, the savage way our lives and all their meanings are erased.”

A delightful menu.

Pub Date: March 29, 2002

ISBN: 1-56512-300-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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