An author who deserves serious consideration.



A selection of short fiction by a British author, poet, and translator, this book aims to correct the problem of Constantine’s obscurity in North America.

If nothing else, these 17 stories—crafted over the course of 30 years—demonstrate the admirable consistency of Constantine's writing, both in subject matter and quality. Sometimes stuffy, sometimes beautiful, sometimes chatty, Constantine’s work is what people mean when they call something “European.” In other words, the stories are slow, chilly, cerebral, whispers rather than shouts. But they are not entirely indirect; rather, Constantine chooses his moments to strike. That way, when a man named Mr. Carlton cries at the end of this book, it's an emotional scene that feels earned because of the author’s restraint elsewhere. Are these stories sometimes too spare, too reserved? Perhaps. But then, many of Constantine’s characters are reserved people, and his world sometimes recalls those of Harold Pinter and Ian McEwan, in which the banal niceties of comfortable living—dinners, funerals for colleagues, business trips—seem to conceal great menace. You know that popular cliché—the tip of the iceberg? Well, it’s what goes unspoken in so many of these stories that seems so powerful. And then, there’s the ice itself: in “The Loss,” ice becomes a metaphor for the frustration of a man who has lost his soul. In the chilling title story, ice is what encases a young girl, killed while exploring a glacier, only to be found decades later, “just the way she was. Twenty, in the dress of that day and age.” This ice becomes so powerful that it spreads across the entire collection; even when a man and woman have tea near water (as in “Tea at the Midland”), all the reader can think about is the frozen world ahead.

An author who deserves serious consideration.

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77196-017-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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