Next book



Thoughtful, surprising fiction.

An unsuspecting suburban community around Lake Oswego, Ore., finds itself unsettled by illogical events and surrealist mischief in this intriguing, nicely polished debut collection of 12 stories.

Imagine that the moon stays full for 93 consecutive nights and that all natural entities, including the human body, experience accelerated growth and fertility; that’s the premise of the charming “Moon Over Water.” The narrator, a mathematics professor at a community college in western Oregon, is determined to wait out this statistically impossible natural phenomenon. Meanwhile, his students steadily drop out of class to move east (where the moon still cycles), and his own wife and children, growing obese, take off for a relative’s home in Denver. Rather than give in to hysteria, however, the narrator drives along the lake to enjoy the wonderful sight of the moon hovering “by some sort of heavenly puppetry.” Similarly, in “Vital Organs,” wife and mother Holly Martino becomes aware that her kidneys are gradually vanishing, to the perplexity of the medical community. In another marvelous story, “Rich Girls,” a working-class husband and father undergoes a series of increasingly ghastly lab experiments for money; he will do literally anything to give his wife and daughters a more comfortable lifestyle. Equally thrilling is the title piece, in which a young UPS manager vacillates about asking his wealthy girlfriend to marry him, until he interprets several bizarre signs that indicate what he should do. Rust adds to the overall sense of absurdity by introducing each tale with a snippet from a local police blotter.

Thoughtful, surprising fiction.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8040-1083-8

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Swallow Press/Ohio Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2005

Next book


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

Next book



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

Close Quickview