Precisely written, deeply human stories.

A debut collection of stories that are both challenging and compelling, with narrative perspectives that suggest how difficult it is to know oneself (let alone anyone else).

Though the protagonists of some of these stories go unnamed and some narratives address the reader directly (as “you”), Orozco isn’t indulging in postmodern wordplay or academic exercises. A creative-writing teacher (formerly at Stanford, now at the University of Idaho) and much-anthologized writer, he shows a keen sense of the processes and limits of social interaction, particularly in the workplace. The short title story that opens the collection takes the reader on a new hire’s tour of the office, as the supervisor’s account makes various employees’ relationships seem increasingly pathological. “Officers Weep” relates a romance in the form of a police blotter, as entries detailing the beat of a male and female partner become amplified, surreal and/or absurd. In “Only Connect,” robbery, murder and their complications take E.M. Forster’s aphorism into territory he never anticipated. The weakest and longest story, “Somoza’s Dream,” doesn’t seem to fit with the rest, as it relates the life, fate and offhand brutality of a deposed Latin American dictator and his “chain of disappointment in this life of exile.” “The Bridge” gives the perspective of bridge painters on suicidal “jumpers.” “Hunger Tales” offers four vignettes with unnamed characters whose very specific hungers will never be satisfied.  A workout fanatic in “I Run Every Day” has the illusion that he has transformed himself into “another person,” yet it’s plain that he lacks any reflective understanding of who he was or is. Perhaps the most moving is “Temporary Stories,” about an in-demand temp who is both part of the office and apart from it, who knows less and more than her fellow workers, and who loves her trip home because “no one is alone on a bus.”

Precisely written, deeply human stories.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-86547-853-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011



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




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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