Best when intimate and straightforward, yet often undermined by whimsy and impish urges to experiment.



A diverse collection of short fiction culled from 30 years of the author’s writing life.

Wide-ranging in style and subject, the 20 stories in this collection also vary wildly in quality. Several stories are stellar: The most successful piece in the collection, “Night Train to Cologne,” tells the tale of a man contemplating leaving his wife; it possesses an admirable introspective mood, as well as an emotionally suspenseful conclusion. Also poignantly rendered is the claustrophobic familial atmosphere in the title story. Several tales, particularly “The Jump,” are notable for their attempts to deal with characters gripped by crises that are as much spiritual as emotional. The prose is consistently solid, and Wright has a clear gift for small-scale, character-driven stories. Unfortunately, structural and stylistic experiments frequently dilute these strengths. “Seven Minutes’ Silence” and “The Bells of Khatyn” both employ motifs (a compressed time span in the former and the relentless ringing of a bell in the latter) that feel gimmicky, which detracts from the human impact. In the case of “The President Reminisces,” the collection’s sole foray into both sci-fi and satire, the humor is so broad as to be tedious. And yet, even the book’s failures can be intriguing. “Queen’s Grill,” a story with an unreliable narrator who may or may not have had a relationship with an unhappy film star on an ocean voyage, contains moments of levity and poignancy that contrast with the strained inclusion of the narrator’s doubting brother and the fussiness of the whole story being a confession to the character’s dead mother. In this story, the lovingly rendered details of ocean travel also cry out for a less frivolous production. Indeed, when viewed as a whole, many of the settings and evocations of vanished eras contain moments that will charm readers, even when the stories themselves aren’t fully successful.

Best when intimate and straightforward, yet often undermined by whimsy and impish urges to experiment.

Pub Date: March 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466900974

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

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The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.


A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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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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