A tough, unforgiving portrait of shallow small-town folk who have heard only the gossip on nobility.



Shade’s diagram of southwest Pennsylvania—in the form of 11 stories set in and around the town of Windfall—wins this year’s Flannery O’Connor award.

Windfall is a place where for ten bucks men will “take a cup filled with Skoal spit and cigarette ashes. Swish it around like a rich-bitch wine taster, and in one shot swallow it all.” In “Blood,” a young man tags along on a deer hunt with his cuckolded uncle, the man who is cuckolding him, and a stripper daughter for a possible revenge killing and a lesson in the politics of small-town love. A more straightforward love story is “The Heart Hankers,” about a young wife and her janitor husband who looks like a retired elf and who might have fallen from the sky. In “A Rage Forever,” Big Al is the near-mythical high-schooler who will lead a gang of delinquents through fights and into lore. A couple who’ve lived together for three years are anything but stable (“Stability”) when it turns out her pregnancy isn’t his responsibility. “The Last Night of the County Fair” is about the late-season adventures of a pair of teenagers avoiding their weirdo parents as they wander Pennsylvania in search of girls. And in the title story, a group of men about to tear down an old drive-in for a bit of pay are happy with their tools but headed for disaster—though not before our narrator reflects on his life and the drive-in: “But looking at the screen now I thought how small I was. And how Cincinnati and California and the rest of the world were really far away.” Shade has the voice down—his people dream of futures that involve UFOs and time machines. They know of other places but ultimately, it seems, are stuck and fated. When one person says to another, “We could leave Windfall,” the response is: “I think Windfall’s about left us, Gus.”

A tough, unforgiving portrait of shallow small-town folk who have heard only the gossip on nobility.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8203-2432-9

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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