Twelve stories, mostly depicting life among intellectually and emotionally overwrought young people in present-day America. Almost all the characters who roam these pages suffer from some intense malaise, real or imagined, that prevents them from discerning any purpose in their own lives—and keeps them from communicating as much to the reader. Domestic life is usually futile: the schizophrenic narrator of “The Season’s Condition,” for example, drives her sister to distraction with her delusions, while the wife of “An Interview With My Husband” is obsessed with losing her younger Argentinian husband to another woman. Erotic life is largely as unsatisfying. The nearly blind art scholar of “Blind—compensates for her failed marriage with a succession of pointless love affairs; the beautiful narrator of “Where All Things Converge” dedicates herself to a life of celibacy after losing her faith in God; and the clueless intellectuals of “Our Perversions” attempt, without much success, to find an ontological significance in their sex (—We have our desire. We name it, then move into it so that it cannot move into us and make us who we are not: a man and a woman hiding from unquenchable desire—). The mendacity of the rich is also a common theme. The fable “An Obscure Geography,” for instance, tells of the ultimate revenge of a troubled schoolteacher who loses her job at the hands of a wealthy, bratty student, while the title story relates the history of a young, rich, Wasp-y banker who falls disastrously in love with a free-spirited woman (—half Peruvian or Bolivian—we cannot remember which—) who scandalizes his family. Apprentice work of some depth but no great originality. Di Blasi (the novellas Drought & Say What You Like, 1996) shows a talent for narration, but most of her central dichotomies (sex vs. love, money vs. freedom, etc.) are obvious, annoying, and very old-hat.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-56689-083-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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