A country-hopping collection of engaging, high-stakes tales by Europe watchers.

FRACTUS EUROPA

An anthology of short stories chronicles the splintering face of contemporary Europe.

This collection of tales, set in the backrooms and alleys of Europe, presents a continent that has never been more interconnected—and perhaps never in so much danger of coming apart. In Constantine Bouchagiar’s “Shifting Syrian Sands,” a Syrian in Germany sets out to help his fellow refugees, though as he grows more successful, his actions become less altruistic. Preston Smith offers “The Promised Land,” a spy thriller set in Latvia’s border with Russia, where a former Riga police officer investigating a human trafficking syndicate finds more trouble than he bargained for. In Graham Thomas’ “Beaches and Banks,” two expatriate bankers living in Cyprus find themselves working for the same firm. It should be great—they are drinking buddies, after all—until Tom Graham discovers some suspicious practices being carried out by his friend Bob Anastasi. In “Prose and Politics,” Nick Eaden imagines a Scottish politician who thinks he’s finally found an economic solution to his country’s independence from England: previously undiscovered fuel reserves in the North Sea. Unless, of course, the information is just a trick of Russian hackers. The collection’s authors, by and large, are not known for their fiction. Instead, they are journalists, academics, and other experts from the world of international affairs. This gives the book, edited by Anderson and Dunn, a different feel from your average thriller: The details are exact, the structures surprising, and the pacing a bit slower than readers might expect. Even the lengths of the tales—often 30 pages or more—vary from normal short fiction fare. Some are better than others—Thomas’ and Smith’s stories are the standouts—but all provide a provocative window into some corner of contemporary European life that Americans, in particular, are unlikely to have spent much time considering. The foreword and the afterword are both concerned with threats to democracy across the continent, and many of the tales hint darkly at future problems. Whether readers share similar fears or are just looking for stories full of international intrigue, they will find much to enjoy in this wide-ranging anthology.

A country-hopping collection of engaging, high-stakes tales by Europe watchers.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9985742-8-8

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2020

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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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The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

THE AWKWARD BLACK MAN

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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