JESUS' SON

STORIES

Johnson (Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, 1991; Fiskadoro, 1985 etc.) brings together eleven down-and-out stories linked by their disagreeable narrator—a lowlife of mythic proportions who abuses drugs, booze, and people with reckless indifference. But this eventually recovering slacker reveals in these deceptively thin tales a psyche so tormented and complex that we allow him his bleak redemption. Gobbling whatever drugs he can, the nameless narrator witnesses a fatal car wreck while hitchhiking and experiences a strange euphoria. His highs can be sharp, edgy, and intense, resulting in casual violence and emotional disconnectedness (``Dundun''); or sluggish, as he threatens to nod out before our eyes. At a local gin mill (``Out on Bail'') with his fellow losers, he ponders arbitrary fate among those who fancy themselves ``tragic'' and ``helpless.'' After shooting heroin with his girlfriend at a Holiday Inn, he finds his ``mother'' in an angelic barmaid (``Work''). There's plenty of drug-induced surrealism as well: a stranger, feigning muteness, hitches a ride (``Two Men''); a man walks into an emergency room with a knife stuck in his eye (``Emergency''); and a cruising salesman from Ohio pretends to be a Polish immigrant (``The Other Man''). In ``Dirty Wedding,'' the same narrator proves his cowardice and contemptibility while waiting for his girlfriend at an abortion clinic. ``Steady Hands at Seattle General'' transcribes a loopy, poetic dialogue in a detox ward, where the narrator meets someone more jaded and bruised than himself. In recovery, he works part-time at a Phoenix home for the old and hopeless—some so deformed ``they made God look like a senseless maniac.'' While there, he dates a dwarf, takes his Antabuse, and begins peeping on a Mennonite couple who live by his bus stop. All this to remind us that God shows up in all the wrong places, and angels are everywhere. Blunt and gritty: Johnson's beautifully damned stories sing with divine poetry, all the while bludgeoning us with existential reality.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17892-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1992

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