An ambitious and wide-ranging set of stories that creates empathy for most of its characters due to Tallent's generous...



This collection of stories in the American realist tradition has an adventurous, untethered feeling, with wide-ranging locales and points of view.

The first thing you notice about Tallent's first book in more than 20 years (Honey, 1993, etc.) is its breadth of subject matter. Set on university campuses, in the hardscrabble backwoods, or among much-divorced families, these stories feature emotionally wrenching situations and dramatic landscapes. Tallent probes different points of view—a young man struggling with his dad in a working-class California fishing community; an academic having an erotic encounter with her female student; an aging activist dealing with his multiple-ex-wives problem. These stories explore different genders, sexualities, and settings with skill and subtle intelligence. Next you notice Tallent’s, er, talent as a prose stylist—she writes in long sentences pulsing with images and insights. In a story about a woman painfully and suddenly divorced, Tallent describes the woman's thoughts when scrutinizing a photograph of her husband's lover: "The mouth is done in a lipstick of a crude, carnal, trashy red, a third-world mouth, a Cuban mouth, and Ximena can't help wondering if the lover feels the need to mitigate her whiteness, if the ethnification of her mouth is owed to competitiveness with Ximena, about whom [her husband] must tell stories...." Or an academic observing her student, for whom she’s developed an overwhelming attraction: “Under Clio’s hot gaze the knot of passionate hair at the Beloved’s nape, screwed so tight in its coil, releases red-gold strands flaring with electricity.” Tallent’s assured voice is a pleasure to follow through this book. Occasionally, she tries to cover too much ground within one story, and the reader loses the thread, as confusing gaps of time occur and important characters recede. But mostly, Tallent is in control as she navigates her shifting landscapes.

An ambitious and wide-ranging set of stories that creates empathy for most of its characters due to Tallent's generous imagination.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-241034-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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