Don’t miss this introduction to a genuinely talented find.



Salinger meets Rabelais in a fresh, profoundly human debut collection that meditates on growing up, falling apart and simply being dazzled or bollixed by the wondrous puzzlement of life.

Pushcart Prize–winner Puchner crams his nine terrific stories with memorable and just-right detail, bits of observation that work like bite-sized poems. The author has a sharp eye and a warm touch, and it’s impossible not to identify with his mixed-up characters and the messy lives they gamely muddle through. Hired to assist special needs cases, a reluctant social worker discovers that his “developmentally disabled” charges are themselves unsung heroes, dear and tough (“Children of God”); combing the aisles of a pet store for neon tetras for the family aquarium, a young son senses something strange—his dad’s puppyish crush on the sexy salesclerk (“Neon Tetras”); asked to write an essay for Lit 101 about Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan,” a mall-minded teen queen turns in a nightmare, dubbing the august Irish seer a “mentally ill person” whose poetry pales beside that of heartthrob Colin Sweep, lead singer of the death-metal monstrosity, Salacious Universe (“Essay #3: Leda and the Swan”). Comedy is Puchner’s forte, but he’s especially good at the bittersweet. “Mission,” about the star student of an ESL class who plots revenge after the teacher dares to question her word choice, is perhaps the best story here. The student’s affronted hot-headedness is both crazy and heartbreaking, and so too are the lengths to which her teacher goes in order to reclaim his “lost sheep.” Puchner is a hip writer, his language colloquial and his tone knowing. But he’s never ironic, never less than wise.

Don’t miss this introduction to a genuinely talented find.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-7046-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

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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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