Gloriously vivid stories about the human heart.


Ten stories, carefully and lovingly constructed, about Western characters as prickly as barbed wire.

The epistolary story, “The Last Thing We Need,” chronicles the letters of Thomas Grey to one Duane Moser after the correspondent finds a lost stash of prescriptions, a collection of letters and an abandoned ’66 Chevelle out in the desert. “Rondine Al Nido” uncovers a young woman’s secret shame. If there’s an anomaly in the collection, it’s “The Diggings,” a story about the Gold Rush of 1849 and the madness of greed. It’s a fine story but feels out of place among those that surround it. There are two here that are flat-out outstanding. “The Archivist” is a spare, unflinching story about the desolation of loss. “There was no salve for the space he left,” is an amazing opening line for this heartbreaker about a woman building a shrine to the flimflam man she loved and lost. Watkins builds a fully formed world in “The Past Perfect, The Past Continuous, The Simple Past,” in which a beautiful young Italian boy wreaks emotional havoc on the workers of the brothel he stumbles into by accident.

Gloriously vivid stories about the human heart.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-825-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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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 Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again,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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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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