A fresh voice from a writer who deserves discovery.


Psychologically acute, often very funny and only occasionally glib, these stories show great promise, though a few of the dozen in this debut collection are almost as slight as the best are compelling.

Straub writes predominantly from the perspective of a youngish woman in New York (where she lives and works as a bookseller) and often in the first person, though these narratives seem to transcend the thinly disguised memoir of so much fledgling fiction. Certain motifs seem signature. Many of the stories have a coming-of-age quality to them, though the “girls” who are experiencing these rites of passage might be well into their 20s or 30s, and some are even mothers. Like Franny, the unhappily married (or at least unfulfilled, for happiness may be beyond the emotional range of so many of Straub’s characters) protagonist of three of these stories: “She still thought she was a cow with her leftover baby weight and yet insisted on wearing those stupid pigtails all young mothers seem to think it’s their right to wear, as if they were all waiting, gasping, praying for someone to say, Oh, you! You can’t be the mother of this child! You couldn’t possibly be old enough! In addition to arrested development, or a post-adolescence that extends into what was once considered middle age, a surprising number of these stories find two (or more) characters on vacation, or in a state of dislocation, a place where either the relationship changes or they (or at least one of them) discovers what has been wrong all along. They must, as Franny discovers in the pre-marriage “Pearls,” where her friendship with her very different roommate briefly turns romantic. In the first-person opening story, “Some People Must Really Fall in Love,” a young teacher in the grip of what she considers an inappropriate infatuation with a student tells her freshman class that “stories didn’t have to have morals at the end.” And many of these stories are left comparatively open-ended, rich in interpretive possibility.

A fresh voice from a writer who deserves discovery.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-606-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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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