Uneven but intriguing work from a writer who should resist her penchant for narrative game-playing.

THE HYPOTHETICAL GIRL

Cohen (The Family on Beartown Road, 2003) showcases love in the Internet Age.

The 15 stories vary in tone and degree of realism, but all display faith in the “glowing and nuclear power in the word.” It may impact the characters directly, as when discovery of the name for his condition finally cures the protagonist of “Limerence” of his obsessive brooding over a woman who stops answering his texts after four dates and two bouts of sex. Or the power may be manifested in the way characters use words to misrepresent themselves online; in “People Who Live Far, Far Away,” the Icelandic yak farmer is actually a paralyzed vet in Duluth, the movie actress in fact cares full-time for her sister with Down syndrome. Or the author may just decide to flat-out dazzle you with words, as in the flashy opening of “Animal Dancing”: “It was the time of year when the helicopter seeds twirled down on the sidewalks like girls showing off at a dance, when the bee balm bushes wore their best purple frocks and the whole world seemed…tricked out for love.” Love may be fleeting, but a well-turned phrase is forever in Cohen’s clever but occasionally shallow collection. It’s not exactly news that people don’t always look like the photos they post online (“Man on a Boat”) or that it’s a bad idea to drunkenly hook up with an ex-boyfriend who tells you he’s doing drugs with a couple of other guys (“Love Quiz”), and the author is sometimes too eager to show off her technique. Nonetheless, the subject of looking for love online is still fresh enough, and Cohen is talented enough, to imbue the best stories—“Dog People,” “The Man Who Made Whirlygigs,” “The Opposite of Love”—with a sharp, distinctive quality as they show people tentatively using new tools in the age-old search for connection.

Uneven but intriguing work from a writer who should resist her penchant for narrative game-playing.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59051-582-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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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

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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