In this funny, poignant, risk-taking and mostly splendid collection, Dorst confirms the promise of his acclaimed first novel.

READ REVIEW

THE SURF GURU

STORIES

Dorst's second book, following his debut novel Alive in Necropolis (2008), is a varied, inventive collection of stories.

The title tale, told in fragments, is equal parts rueful and playful, and features a surfing legend turned surfwear king who sits alone on his bluffside deck watching his customers (or, seen another way, his congregants) in the swells below—he's keeping an eye on his legacy, and maybe even rooting for it to unravel. A radically different story-in-snapshots, "Twelve Portraits of Dr. Gachet," follows Van Gogh's decline through the eyes of a personal physician who's part quack and part groupie. In "Vikings," two drifters on the lam stumble into a desert town where they find themselves out of money, out of time, out of patience...and in possession, suddenly and inexplicably, of a baby abandoned by a stranger. Rarely in debut story collections does a writer succeed in showing versatility and range without the book devolving into a miscellany, but Dorst expertly manages the feat. He attempts a Nabokovian trick of unreliable narration in "Splitters," a vengeful botanist's field guide to all the fellow botanists who screwed him over in life. In "Dinaburg's Cake," a baker grows dangerously obsessed with a lost wedding-cake commission, and meanwhile grapples with how to help her teen daughter, who's ripping out her own hair one strand at a time. Some stories—for instance, the magnificently odd meditation on war called "The Monkeys Howl, the Hagfish Feast" and the contemporary-campaign riff "The Candidate in Bloom"—offer a brand of magical realism. "Jumping Jacks," about a childhood accident involving fireworks, is a brief, lyrical, bittersweet reflection on the moment where a life went wrong (but oh man, was it beautiful). Still others ("Astronauts") have the humor, tragicomedy and slightly giddy downbeat feel of Denis Johnson's short fiction.

In this funny, poignant, risk-taking and mostly splendid collection, Dorst confirms the promise of his acclaimed first novel.

Pub Date: July 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59448-761-3

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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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

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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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