VAQUITA

AND OTHER STORIES

This year's Drue Heinz Awardwinner collects 15 stories, many of which have been published in literary magazines. Most of these elegantly written pieces concern privileged protagonists who eventually discover ``the harsh light of this world.'' Pearlman's doctors, professors, and patricians all must confront, in varying ways, the indignities of illness or old age. In the title story, a Holocaust survivor, now a prominent government minister in a Latin American country, ponders her future as the country undergoes violent political change. In ``The Cook,'' an American-born dwarf who cares for abandoned children in a repressive Latin country must confront the possibility that the government is using these kids to harvest organs. Less dramatically, the American Jewish grandfather in ``To Reach This Season'' travels to Central America to meet the young native boy his homosexual son is adopting. A fine quartet of related pieces focus on Donna, a genteel, ``drab Christian'' who runs a soup kitchen for women. We follow her courtship by Raphael, a Jewish psychiatrist who doesn't fully appreciate Donna's charitable impulses. Donna discovers her own ambiguous feelings about the poor in ``Dorothea,'' but eventually she and Raphael (who's come to value Donna's work) hold their wedding at the soup kitchen. The elderly historian in ``Cavalier'' will not go gentle into that good night, until a female attendant encourages him to tell her stories based on his area of expertise. The retired schoolteacher in ``Settlers,'' who lives on the edges of other people's lives, finds his happy old age harshly altered. While a young doctor recuperates on Cape Cold from cancer in ``The Noncombatant,'' he must deal with the exuberance of all around him as WW II comes to an end. Clearly, the play of conflicting passions animates Pearlman's fictive imagination. And two fabulistic pieces—one about a professional letter writer—further testify to her belief in redemptive art. A solid debut from a writer worth keeping an eye on.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1996

ISBN: 0-8229-3962-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

Categories:

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

Categories:

SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

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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