Bracing, often brilliant stories deliver a shock to the routine narratives we tell.


Eleven stories of misshapen families and broken friendships disturb and unsettle.

Fridlund follows History of Wolves (2017), her marvelous and preternaturally accomplished first novel, with a collection of jarring and polished short fiction. The craft is evident in the perfect titles and the observational acuity of the sentences. In a story called “One You Run From, the Other You Fight,” a childless woman trespasses into a boy’s room: “Teenage boys always unnerved her, with their dramatic bodies and bad skin, their needy flirtation. They couldn’t decide if they wanted to be liked or hated.” In quick phrases, Fridlund’s characters are vividly embodied, such as Lora, 34, “with her lavish red nails, fingering the dry skin on her elbows.” The narrator of this story, “Here, Still,” begins with the ambiguous “I do not like her much, Lora, my best friend.” Neither will the reader. Fridlund writes about lives that feel, to their owners, “fundamentally unreal and insubstantial.” In “Marco Polo,” a young man describes his marriage slipping away like the child’s game. He ends his tale by donning his ex’s earplugs and mask for sleep, “faceless, pitiless, and perfect.” The only narrator with much agency is Katie, who remembers being an alpha girl of 14. She begins that summer reading vampire stories and ends it sexually mounting a boy her age who tells her “No, wait” in the unnerving title story, “Catapult.” It captures Katie’s intelligence and heedless insistence on launching from childhood. This is darker, thornier terrain than Mattie Furston navigated in History of Wolves, but the geography is similar: the Upper Midwest, the Iron Range, existentially lonely rural and suburban outposts. Each story mixes its humans with other mammals—rabbits, mice, bears, and especially dogs. Fridlund insists on functions primal and rude. She likes the color yellow for teeth and toenails, linoleum, rabbit fur, and toothpicks. Her stories evoke Flannery O’Connor's masterly way with grotesquery but deviate in Fridlund’s contempt for faith.

Bracing, often brilliant stories deliver a shock to the routine narratives we tell.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946448-05-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

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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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