Well-crafted and intelligent—yet lifeless and rambling: a ramble through Danny’s adolescence that has too much incident and...


Milofsky (Color of Law, 2000, etc.) returns with a coming-of-ager set in 1970s Milwaukee, the story of a young man’s emergence from the confines of a close-knit but troubled family.

When Danny Meyer went back to Milwaukee for his father’s funeral, it was his first visit in nearly 30 years to the home that he thought he’d been glad to leave forever. Born in Madison, Danny moved with his family to Milwaukee as a boy when his father became ill and had to give up his post at the University. Milwaukee was a big step down for the Meyers, who had enjoyed their status as a faculty family in college-town Madison, but Danny managed to find a kindred spirit in his classmate Joey Goodstein, whose family had also fallen on hard luck when his hotshot lawyer father had been sent to prison as a racketeer. Danny does well in school, partly because he finds refuge from his father’s illness and his brother’s mental delusions by retreating to an empty storage room in the basement of their apartment building to read. He also makes the acquaintance of Anna, a Holocaust survivor who lives down the hall and dotes on him. After Anna’s husband dies, she becomes the lover of Jesús, a Guatemalan immigrant who speaks no English and got into the country without papers. Anna writes to Henry Kissinger, whom she knew as a child in Germany, asking his help in getting a green card for Jesús, and Kissinger actually replies, offering his advice and assistance. In order to straighten out his status, however, Jesús must return to Guatemala and reenter the US. Anna goes with him, bringing Danny along. Eventually, Danny wins a scholarship to a good school and ends up a happy family man in Colorado.

Well-crafted and intelligent—yet lifeless and rambling: a ramble through Danny’s adolescence that has too much incident and too little focus to be engaging.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-299-18520-6

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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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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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

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