Beautifully crafted stories with a true-to-life ring.


A lush tangle of small-town life branches out in this engrossing collection of short stories.

The town of Acorn, population 21,000, is rare for its abundance of trees, unheard of on the dry West Texas plains. It also boasts a profusion of quirky characters–both in line and at odds with Texas’s Bible-belt, football-factory culture–whose relationships entwine and deepen from one tale to the next. A coach threatens to out a deaf, gay high-school English teacher after he gives a failing mark to a gridiron star. A gallery owner threatens to out the publicly homophobic mayor with whom he had a brief gay affair. A jobless loser, dependent on his wife’s money, starts a fundamentalist church group to keep women in their place. A young wife holds down two strip-mall jobs while dreaming of becoming a painter, and a hack novelist fakes his death to drum up sales. There’s also a roster of characters coping with mundane joys and heartaches–a black woman finds late-blooming love, a cop vows to short circuit the cycle of abuse that marred his childhood, a domineering woman and a lunkhead limp toward marriage. The characters walk in and out of each other’s stories, sometimes taking center stage, sometimes playing supporting roles that complicate our view of them with shifting perspectives and ironic detail. Simolke (Degranon, 2002, etc.) steers clear of schmaltz and writes with a open-eyed sympathy that illuminates the characters without glamorizing them.

Beautifully crafted stories with a true-to-life ring.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 1936

ISBN: 978-0-595-28864-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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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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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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