A writer at the peak of her acumen whose strong, assured work will not miss its mark.

Storywriter Pearlman (Vaquita, 1996) probes memories of first love and loss over many lifetimes in her confident-voiced, tightly constructed second collection, winner of the Spokane Prize for Fiction.

Pearlman catches an admirably diverse array of characters in her wide net, ranging from an unnamed bourgeois family summering on the north shore of Massachusetts, whose ambitions and ages coalesce over the construction of a boxed puzzle (“The Jigsaw Table”), to a sympathetic team-up of an aged seamstress and her middle-aged customer after a devastating fire (“Fitting”). While the stories start out with unassuming premises, Pearlman’s knack for the telling detail and her detached, gently ironical voice prove a winning combination. “Fidelity,” for example, begins with ailing octogenarian Victor Cullen’s latest dispatch to the editor of his travel magazine—normal enough, except that Victor has made up the dateline and invented a whole world that doesn’t exist. By surreptitious degrees, it is revealed that Victor’s wife has had a late-life affair with Victor’s editor, Greg, and the last dispatch becomes Victor’s swan song and biting tribute to married love. Some of the tales lack this strenuous aim toward a satisfying conclusion, such as “Chance,” in which a synagogue’s ceremonial acceptance of a Torah from Czechoslovakia devolves into a young girl’s rites of maturity watching the revered participants over a night of poker. Three of the stories, including the title piece, concern a divorced young Jewish woman’s courtship with and eventual marriage to a black pediatrician and Baptist, allowing Pearlman to explore the often fraught territories of trust and possession.

A writer at the peak of her acumen whose strong, assured work will not miss its mark.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-910055-80-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002



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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