WHITE DANCING ELEPHANTS

The 17 stories in this debut collection take place around the world, exploring queer and interracial love, extramarital affairs, and grief over the disappearances of loved ones.

The book provocatively probes the aftermath—the aftermath of death, of grim diagnoses, of abandonment, of monumental errors in judgment. Passages jump back and forth in time to dissect how the consequences of a fraught event shape and unravel the lives of innocent casualties. In the searing title story, which references the Buddha’s birth, the narrator wanders around London while mourning her recent miscarriage. “I lie down now and feel the weight of it on me, a white dancing elephant that I can see with my eyes closed, airy and Disney in one dream, bellowing despair and showing tusks in the other.” In the evocative “Talinda,” among the strongest in the collection, a South Asian scholar named Narika attempts to justify her affair and pregnancy with her terminally ill best friend’s husband, George. “By thinking of Talinda as always being high above me, I could sometimes think of her as being untouched by what I had been doing with George. Like she had too much pride to be hurt by it. Like she had better things to do.” In the electric “A Shaker Chair,” Sylvia, a “polished, calm, perfect” biracial therapist, is both troubled by and obsessed with her newest client, the “slovenly” Maya. “Revulsion is what she makes me feel,” Sylvia confesses to a former supervisor. “The Bang Bang” incisively portrays the transformation of a crotchety father named Millind, whose “immigration history was spotted with failures,” into an acclaimed poet and “great man” at the same time his only son disappears. Millind’s daughter bears witness, though bitterly, to his newfound fame and resents his apathy toward her missing brother. “As if, because our father had found joy, my brother and his quiet sadness had to become invisible.”

An exuberant collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945814-61-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

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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