Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

GODS AND ANGELS

In 13 stories set mostly in his native Northern Ireland, novelist Park (The Poets’ Wives, 2014, etc.) explores the emotional lives of men from youth to old age.

While Park occasionally flirts with high culture—the opening story, “Learning to Swim,” features a young Donne scholar from England finding a poem for his new, older, richer, but less educated Belfast acquaintance to recite at his wedding; “The Kiss” swings between the scoundrel painter Caravaggio’s betrayal of a friend and present-day adultery—the emphasis here is on the daily grind of love. In the heart-wrenching “Boxing Day,” a teenager spends a miserable afternoon with his mentally ill mother, impatient to return to the new happy family his father has created yet longing to “know [his] mother as she must once have been.” Although the island on which the retired teacher in “Skype” lives may be extreme in its isolation, his yearning to stay connected with his faraway daughter via her preferred technology captures the zeitgeist of contemporary parenthood. In “Man Overboard,” four childhood friends, now middle-aged, spend an awkward fishing trip not really talking “about ourselves in the present” until one of them faces a crisis and the others react, revealing the potential tenderness of male friendship. Park shows love gone bad—the cop assigned a surveillance beat by day in “Keeping Watch” spends nights on unofficial surveillance of his ex-wife’s house despite a court order, his inability to let go turned into sickness—but the best stories here approach marital love as a complex organism. Technology is again the metaphor in “The Bloggers,” about a married couple’s evolution online and off. The long, seemingly moribund marriage in “Gecko” endures and reblooms once the husband accepts his own limitations. In “Old Fool,” the lonely widower who allows a struggling single mother to take advantage of his optimistic naiveté is also consciously compensating for his failure to appreciate his wife while she was alive.

Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-40886-607-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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