Funny and smart. It seems the post-graduate doldrums are over.


The author of The Graduate (1963) returns with his first novel in 25 years, a laugh-out-loud love story about a whining Brit who comes to America to mend his broken heart.

Colin Ware received a wedding invitation from the woman he had been effectively engaged to—and he was not the groom-to-be. Assuming this was the only way Vera could tell him she was leaving, he immediately embarks for the New World to rid himself of his old life. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the tradition in 19th-century American fiction,” he tells the proprietors of an art-supply store in New Cardiff, Vermont. “You have love gone wrong, then off the person gets packed to Europe . . . I thought I might try it in reverse.” At the New Cardiff motel where he’s bunked down, owners Fisher and Joanie are beguiled by his story of betrayal and match him with nursing-home attendant Mandy, a local goofball who moves in with Colin in a matter of hours. Then Vera arrives with the news that it was all an awful joke and now it’s time to go home. But Colin’s not so sure: Mandy is peachy, and these crazy Americans, whose portraits Colin has been periodically drawing, are just so inspiring. Meanwhile, Webb’s play with language is subtly incisive. Consisting almost entirely of slippery-as-an-eel dialogue, his text is spare—you can easily imagine it onstage—but not without depth. The author’s wife supplied the pencil portraits Colin is supposed to have drawn, but they merely supplement the word portraits that emerge during the conversations chronicling Colin’s adventures. Paranoid, substance-dependent, and given to blurting whatever cliché comes to mind rather than anything appropriate, the Americans are either unfavorably juxtaposed with their English counterparts or simply allowed to flounder on their own. The exchanges are often hilarious, and between chuckles we hope that Colin will succeed in finding a happy end for everyone involved.

Funny and smart. It seems the post-graduate doldrums are over.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2002

ISBN: 0-7434-4416-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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