There are so many of these brief, unspectacular stories by the Panamanian Levi that eventually their very number overwhelms. Many of the tales involve male-female relationships, usually with a heavy dose of machismo. In ``The Husband,'' a man spots a woman, apparently a former lover, with her new husband and punches him in the face. In ``While He Lay Sleeping,'' Carlos fantasizes about his first girlfriend, who used to sit and watch while he lifted weights: ``How beautiful her tits look from that angle, so tightly fit into her sweater''). In ``As If There Were Nothing the Matter,'' a woman ponders her sleeping, unfaithful husband, who has slapped her. ``On the Afternoon of the Encounter'' follows a man who fears that his lover is ignoring him and implores friends to find out what is the matter. Other types of sexuality abound here as well, but they are posited as unnatural curiosities. The narrator of ``I'm in Love With You, Sylvia'' watches a neighbor undressing every night, then reveals herself to be a woman. In ``The Spectacle,'' a story that reads like a synopsis of a Penthouse Forum letter, a man takes three female lovers and the four of them eventually begin sleeping together (mainly because the man desires two women at once but is too polite to leave the third out in the cold). When he dies, the three women remain in his home with the three sons they have borne him. There are also tales that manage to render surreal transformation mundane: The narrator of ``The Glasses'' turns into an owl after donning a new pair of spectacles. Although the stories are divided into vaguely titled sections such as ``Alienations,'' ``Incidents,'' and ``Re- Incidents,'' they come at the reader one after the other, never staying long enough to build up any impact. The translation is occasionally jerky, but generally serviceable. Forgettable.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-935480-65-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004


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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