A deceptively spiky set of meditations on romantic failure.

Couples unravel and anxieties are revealed in this batch of urbane, wry and interior stories enlivened by Antrim’s talent for gamesmanship with words.

Antrim's debut story collection—his first book of fiction since The Verificationist (2000)—sticks to a remarkably narrow set of premises. In “Pond, With Mud,” a hard-drinking New Yorker is losing his grip on reality and growing distant from his fiancee and young would-be stepson; in “Another Manhattan,” a mentally ill New Yorker is failing at the simple act of buying his wife some flowers before dinner; in “Ever Since,” a couple grows strained at a boozy New York literary party. This repetition of setups would be tiring were Antrim not so capable of conjuring a variety of tones and surprising amount of subtlety from these common predicaments. In “Another Manhattan,” for instance, the man’s illness is slowly and powerfully revealed by his inability to stop the florist from adding more and more flowers to the bouquet; as the gift absurdly blossoms, his despair falls into sharp relief. “An Actor Prepares” is a more surrealist look at emotional fissures narrated by a college acting teacher whose guidance to his cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveals both his sexual fixations and romantic failures. And in the closing title story, a man left suicidal by a broken relationship heads back home and, through a series of misadventures, winds up navigating his car through a forest. “The Emerald Light in the Air” refers to the sickly tint in the air before a storm, which captures the overall mood of these stories, where bad news seems to be just about ready to come raining down. But there’s wisdom and humor here, too; Antrim is attuned to the way couples struggle to make themselves heard or obscure their true feelings.

A deceptively spiky set of meditations on romantic failure.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-28093-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014



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




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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