Stories redolent of innocent attachment tempered by obdurate experience—compassionate, tender and fresh.




Eight stories and a novella set in Panama introduce a dazzling new talent.

Henríquez’s voice is artfully simple and unembellished, soft yet quietly piercing. Her tales record realizations of separateness, moments of empowerment, acknowledgements of powerful family bonds. These emotional truths and insights are often experienced by young women, several with absent fathers. In “Ashes,” the endurance of a mother’s love is all that remains to Mireya, whose job has ended and whose boyfriend has deceived her. In “The Wide Pale Ocean,” Ysabel’s first taste of romance only reinforces her closeness to the mother who has brought her up alone, having gotten pregnant after a one-night stand. Many of the men here are unreliable, offering sex and the promise of caring, but then bringing disappointment, and sometimes worse. Yanina, in a story named after her, repeatedly asks Rene to marry her, but he can’t quite commit. “Beautiful” sees an errant father returning home, only to abuse his daughter Rosaria, who finds a way to expose his deeds and reclaim herself. Panama colors each story differently: in its dripping forests, tropical valleys, religious processions, teeming streets. Jobs come and go; electrical appliances are hard to sell; snow falls like a miracle. Two stories, “The Box House and the Snow” and “Chasing Birds,” are set outside urban terrain and lack of conviction. The title novella is the only piece with overt political references—to street violence, the American invasion and Noriega’s surrender—which are mirrored in the story of a family dispossessed of its home and that of a young boy who learns hard lessons of the heart.

Stories redolent of innocent attachment tempered by obdurate experience—compassionate, tender and fresh.

Pub Date: April 6, 2006

ISBN: 1-59448-915-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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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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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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