Tenderly portrayed and sharply observed. A rich collection.


Sneed follows her recent novel (Paris, He Said, 2015, etc.) with a new, wide-ranging collection of short stories.

Bad behavior is a touch point for the stories in Sneed’s new collection—not scorchingly bad behavior but the potentially more interesting acts at the borders of societal decency. Often, the questionable quality of her characters’ choices is something that comes to light as the story progresses, either to the characters themselves or to a close observer. “Beach Vacation” tracks a mother as she recognizes, with despair, the entitled attitude of her teenage son. “Couplehood Jubilee” centers on a young woman whose loved ones are warmly indulgent of her entitled ideas. Protagonists in “Clear Conscience” and “Words that Once Shocked Us” are possibly complicit witnesses to infidelity. Both also share a sense of having reached middle age only to find themselves emotionally stunted by recent minor disasters, a theme that is present in much of the collection. The vulnerable girls in “Five Rooms” and “Older Sister” are in need of guidance and care that they find hard to attain. Many of the stories hint at the ridiculous or otherworldly; the title character from “Roger Weber Would Like to Stay” is in fact a ghost, but everything else in the story is perfectly mundane. “The First Wife,” “The Prettiest Girls,” and "The Virginity of Famous Men" are each narrated by a Hollywood-adjacent character and hint at an entire culture with a different moral code, the title story revisiting the family at the heart of Sneed’s first novel, Little Known Facts (2013). A melancholy floats through the collection like Roger Weber through walls. Though most stories stop short of promising hope, readers will find themselves invested in these worlds and lives.

Tenderly portrayed and sharply observed. A rich collection.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-620-40695-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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