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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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