Readable and comfortably undemanding. Fans will enjoy.



Oprah’s Book Clubber Berg (Open House, 2000, etc.) offers 15 stories deftly detailing those defining moments in ordinary women’s lives when fresh insights help explain their discontents.

Easily accessible, like photos in a family album, these tales record the specific and offer conventional breakthroughs that console. A woman suffering a recurrence of cancer who left her husband because she wanted to be alone now realizes she needs him (“Departure From Normal”). A visiting nurse who takes care of the dying regrets that she refused a patient’s invitation to make love, because she now understands that “there are exquisite acts of tenderness lying latent in all of us, waiting only for our permission to come into being” (“Sweet Refuge”). A childhood attempt at matchmaking includes the lesson that all of us are a mixture of things and that “the trick was to focus on the better parts” (“The Matchmaker”). In the poignant recollections of a beautiful but mentally ill mother, we see that she nevertheless has given her daughter enduring gifts of wisdom (“What Stays”). A married woman, sharing treasured childhood memories with a lover, ponders ending her unsatisfactory marriage (“Things We Used to Believe”). “The Party,” deliciously bawdy and frank, features a group of married women who start talking about men, their genitalia, and sex, until their husbands come to claim them. In the title story, the most original here, 79-year-old Mavis locks herself in the bathroom with a supply of food, reading matter, and enough pillows and blankets to making sleeping in the bath comfortable, telling her bewildered husband that she’s “on retreat.” With the uninterrupted time she craves, she is able to review her life, her marriage, and her family, emerging finally at peace with the realization that she had “done everything right.”

Readable and comfortably undemanding. Fans will enjoy.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2002

ISBN: 0-679-43746-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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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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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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