Easy, lively reading, with some affecting moments, but mostly these tales have all the substance of a plateful of bonbons.

THE CABAL

AND OTHER STORIES

The Cabal is a group of wealthy, influential residents of Jackson, Mississippi, who share the same shrink.  When poet Caroline Jones arrives in town to teach at the college, she's thrust into the thick of it by attending the funeral of the Cabal's most prominent member, stage director and unqualified "Presence" Jean Lyles.  A confrontation between Jean's young lover and her middle-aged, greedy sons is defused by the psychiatrist, Jim Jaspers, whose own wild behavior is a portent of disaster.  After the funeral he gets even wilder, to the point that his clients worry he'll start spilling their nasty secrets.  Soon Caroline is enlisted to help the rebellious daughter of another Cabal member and finds herself hot to trot with Jean's bereaved lover.  Meanwhile, Jim is announcing to all that he's privy to the secrets of the universe, and powerful figures across the state are preparing to put him away, one way or another.  In "The Sanguine Blood of Men," Caroline appears, pre-Jackson, as a frustrated screenwriter in San Francisco, fending off a pass from her would-be producer and sharing a house with a cousin she had looked up to since childhood.  "Hearts of Dixie" portrays Jean's occasional typist, a depressed pro tennis player to whom she has entrusted a safe-deposit box full of frank letters to her family, never sent, and a pile of Krugerrands, with no instructions.  And "The Big Cleanup" records the further adventures of Miss Crystal and Traceleen, for whom a makeover is the first step to solving their problems and everyone else's. 

Easy, lively reading, with some affecting moments, but mostly these tales have all the substance of a plateful of bonbons. 

Pub Date: April 17, 2000

ISBN: 0-316-31491-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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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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