These are low-key stories of great acuity, precision, and poignancy.


Canadian story-writer Willis' second collection, following Vanishing and Other Stories (2010), confirms her debut's promise and extends its range.

The 13 stories collected here include two free-standing but related tales featuring Eddie, a cable installer who in the first, "Todd," finds himself—recently banished and without custody of his 10-year-old daughter—sucked into a bewildering domestic partnership with a crow, a partnership that ends in explosive violence and sorrow. There's also a final triptych, "Steve and Lauren: Three Love Stories," in which Willis makes deft, delicate use of the unreal or magical (a literal hole in the living-room carpet, an extramarital infatuation that literally stops a watch from ticking, an enchanted time-traveling nap) first to defamiliarize a long and apparently stable, loving marriage—to make it strange—and then to persuade the reader to believe in it deeply, in all its messy particulars, and to find it heartbreaking. "Girlfriend on Mars" delivers just what its title promises: it is the first-person lament of a bereft young man, a cultivator of hydroponic marijuana, who discovers only belatedly that his girlfriend and business partner has tried out for a reality-show competition whose prize is the right to blast off (and never return) as one of the first two permanent settlers on the red planet. Other stories belong to a more traditional realist mode. As was the case in Willis' previous collection, several—for instance the title piece and "Welcome to Paradise," about two teens who break into houses for the brief, thrilling feeling of occupying someone else's life—center on female friendship, especially intense adolescent ones looked back upon in celebration and lament.

These are low-key stories of great acuity, precision, and poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-28589-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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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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