While all of Schmitt’s stories are well worth reading, when an ironic conclusion becomes predictable (à la O. Henry), it...

Illuminating stories about the everyday—self-image, problematic relationships, the need for love—marred only by Schmitt’s unfortunate tendency to use heavy-handed irony in the stories’ conclusions.

In the first story, “The Dreamer from Ostend,” we meet an author, also the narrator, recently disappointed in love. Spending time in Ostend because he’s attracted by the exoticism of the name, he meets Emma Van A, the elderly aunt of his landlady, who has spent all of her life among her thousands of books and whose direct experience of life seems limited. Her reading has been confined exclusively to the classics, her greatest literary love being Homer. To the narrator she begins to spin a story of her past, one more than a little tinged with an eroticism that seems out of keeping with her staid present. After exploring the thin line between fact and fiction, Schmitt doesn’t leave his story tantalizingly ambiguous but instead clunkily confirms the existence of Emma’s lover. In “Perfect Crime”—almost Hitchcockian in its plot—Gabrielle de Sarlat becomes convinced that her husband of many years can’t possibly be as good as he seems. A “triggering” event brought about by a usually astute neighbor has persuaded Gabrielle that her husband is nothing more than a hypocrite hiding his numerous lovers, so she murders him. Although a witness to the crime exists, she’s exculpated...but eventually realizes her mistake. “Getting Better” introduces us to Stéphanie, a nurse taking care of a handsome man who’s been terribly injured in an accident. Stéphanie has never found herself attractive, but despite his blindness he convinces her she’s beautiful based on her voice and her delicate scent. His flattery leads to a transformation.

While all of Schmitt’s stories are well worth reading, when an ironic conclusion becomes predictable (à la O. Henry), it subverts its own desire to surprise.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-933372-81-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010



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




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

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