EIGHTBALL

These memorable stories are loosely connected by lots of sex but too little love. The thread that holds it all together is...

Geoghegan’s (Natural Disasters, 2014, etc.) eloquently told stories examine themes of loneliness, sex, addiction, and grief through the lens of unfamiliar cultures and languages.

Part love stories, part travelogues, these are tales of world-weary characters, almost all of them women with appetites. They are at home everywhere and nowhere, stopping for a time in Rome, Seattle, Boulder, Bangkok, or Chicago. Wry humor and a ferocious authenticity inform their missed cues, bar scenes, bed fumbles, and picturesque ramblings. They crave love or connection but mostly end up with fractured, halfhearted intimacies. Geoghegan bravely navigates the rough terrain of the privileged and the chronically unloved with exquisite skill, impeccable pacing, and literary turns of phrase. During a harrowing car ride along the Amalfi coast in "The Violet Hour," Violet’s lover, a photographer, tells her to hold the wheel so he can take a shot of the rain-drenched cliff and the water below. She is terrified but does what she's told. “That had been the hook. Billy’s ability to turn a hardship into a thing of beauty, crystalizing it in a single image made at precisely the right moment. Plenty of people can point and shoot. Few are able to gaze through the lens and truly see.” In "eightball," the last story in the collection, younger sister Quinn adores her older brother, Patrick. They share typical sibling misadventures: Patrick falls off a ladder Quinn is holding. He breaks his arm and shatters a wrist. Later, they share other things, like a taste for alcohol and cocaine. Too late, the effects of dysfunctional parents and squandered gifts result in a downward spiral that seems inevitable. There’s wry humor and mysterious grief here, the hidden kind that comes unbidden after several tequila shots.

These memorable stories are loosely connected by lots of sex but too little love. The thread that holds it all together is Geoghegan’s cool, articulate demeanor and masterful writing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939650-95-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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

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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