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

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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