Proulx staked her claim on the rocky soil of New England gothic in a collection called Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988), and puts down roots there in this dark debut novel that chronicles the slow diaspora and death of a Vermont farm family. They are the Bloods—cranky Minkton; washed-out Jewel; and the not-so-sweet fruit of their loins, Dub, who lost an arm riding the rails; handsome Loyal; and Mermelle, an object of ridicule among the children of Cream Hill because she wears her mother's dresses to school. That's because the Bloods are as poor as the Beans of Egypt, Maine. During WW II, things get even worse when Loyal jumps into his '36 Chevy Coach and heads west in order to avoid being blamed for the accidental death of his girlfriend. For the next 40 or so years, he sends postcards home that tell the tale of his exploits, including getting scalped by an Indian, surviving a mine cave-in Colorado, digging for dinosaur bones in Utah, and ending up a toothless old codger with a lot of stories no one believes. Meanwhile, back at the farm Minkton and Dub set the barn on fire for the insurance money and wind up in prison, an experience that causes father to hang himself and son to relocate to Florida. Mermelle finds happiness as a mail-order bride, and Jewel sells the farm to a trailer-park developer. Loyal's words could serve as an epitaph for the whole Blood tribe: ``Life cripples us in different ways but it gets to everybody...Gets you again and again and one day it wins.'' Not exactly invigorating, but shrewdly, imagistically written. Promising work, providing that Proulx discovers a few colors on the other side of the spectrum in novel number two.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1992

ISBN: 0-684-18718-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1991

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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