Thoughtful and restrained work from a writer clearly unintimidated by the family name.

OLD GIRLFRIENDS

STORIES

Family, infidelity and faith anchor the carefully constructed stories in a collection by John Updike’s son.

Updike (stories: Out on the Marsh, 1988, etc.) seems uninterested in distancing himself from some of the favorite themes of his late father. Indeed, an occasional story evokes the romantic machinations of novels like Couples. In “Geranium,” a young man becomes increasingly obsessed with the relationship between a fellow boarder and their married landlady. “Kinds of Love” follows one man’s complicated efforts to escape his family on a Sunday to attend church with his mistress, wrestling with all the guilt and compulsion that such an effort entails. In “Adjunct,” a glum, self-loathing English 101 teacher pursues a relationship with one of his students, even while he’s aware of the pursuit’s utter futility. Though David can’t claim John’s graceful style and psychological depth, his prose is pleasantly unfussy and direct. “In the Age of Convertibles” is a knowing portrait of a teenager’s growing wisdom about girls, and about how he can shift his place in the family’s pecking order. Updike is clearly in his comfort zone when he’s writing about lovelorn men, and his command gets wobblier when he takes different tacks. “A Word with the Boy” turns on an incident in which London police briefly separate the narrator from his darker-skinned son; it’s a thin premise, and the story stumbles to a moralizing close. That simplistic shape is echoed in “Love Songs From America,” whose narrator visits his wife’s home in an unnamed African country with their son; though Updike’s observations of the culture are well-written, there’s little story to speak of. In “The Last of the Caribs,” the author successfully merges his interest in writing about both romantic need and culture clashes. Following a married man foolishly flirting with a young woman in the Lesser Antilles, he displays a rich knowledge of the Caribbean landscape and nicely captures the quiet despair of the protagonist.

Thoughtful and restrained work from a writer clearly unintimidated by the family name.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-55001-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more