An unconventional set of tales set in delightfully eccentric realities.


A debut collection of short sci-fi fiction that explores time and space with mischievous humor.

In the title story of Curbo’s playful, intriguing compilation, Larches, a viceroy who presides over the celestial garden of Mistress Bloom, discovers a “barbed and repulsive” artichokelike globe that he recognizes as an “avatar” of the faraway planet Earth. The bloom and the planet are deeply connected, so Larches carefully protects the plant from the gardener’s blade and the Mistress’ own shears, and he hatches a plan to seed other blooms in the garden. “The 19th Frustration” finds the hapless John Y. Lipman applying for a job as a “futurologist.” As he enters his workplace—a building in which time is not linear and whose appearance keeps bewilderingly changing—he’s told that he must first witness the destruction of the city of Paris and then prevent it. In “VanLines – The Driver,” the operator of an employee van pool attempts to avoid a disaster by taking passengers back in time, and they become scavengers in a prehistoric world. “Coyote Tower” relates the adventures of two spies whose loving relationship is their only constant in an unstable world. Harold Brayner, the protagonist of “Memory of Glass,” is physically trapped by age and disability as he watches his memories play out beyond the glass wall of his kitchen. Curbo’s unpredictable narratives of parallel worlds and time slippage are strengthened by his idiosyncratic and effervescent prose; he evocatively describes Mistress Bloom’s feet, for instance, as “clops…shod in skins of black-striped winter squash,” and one of the time-traveling commuters in “Vanlines” is said to “giggle a grin.” Sometimes the quirkiness feels forced and random, as when one of the spy’s supervisors in “Coyote Tower” tosses words “like watermelon seeds” toward his listener. Also, the short story format doesn’t allow for very much development of alternate universes. However, readers who are willing to think nonlinearly may enjoy this romp through unfamiliar worlds.

An unconventional set of tales set in delightfully eccentric realities.

Pub Date: July 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4975-8655-0

Page Count: 154

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet