Chatagnier is at his best when plumbing the emotional depths of ordinary lives rather than musing about the origins and...


An eclectic cast of characters populates Chatagnier’s debut collection.

These stories include a wide array of American jobs and types. There’s a police officer, a physician’s assistant, an engineer at a seed company, artists who work in various media, sexually ambiguous students at a Christian college, and even an assistant manager/“de facto mechanic” for a rotating restaurant on top of a bank building in downtown Fresno. In the weaker stories the central characters—a piano player trying to play impossible etudes, a photographer who takes pictures of disasters, a depressed comedian, and a painter whose best work is received with indifference—all represent, a little too predictably, the difficulty and indignities inherent in making art. It isn’t news that childhood pain can inspire artistic striving or that collectors are often uninterested in what an artist judges is his finest work. By contrast, the collection’s strongest stories are about unexceptional people who live and work in the parts of California that nobody visits. The best is “The Top of Fresno,” which evinces real emotional intelligence. Its mechanic narrator considers having an affair with a co-worker, but he can’t quite commit. “I stayed on the edge of the bed, thinking about how either choice would have led to a lifetime of regret,” he recalls. “Choosing her bed would have been the more interesting regret, and the lesser regret in general. It would not have added mass to the accumulating regrets about my inability to act. It could have had its own special drawer.” Thematically speaking, quiet desperation in California’s arid inland counties is fertile soil.

Chatagnier is at his best when plumbing the emotional depths of ordinary lives rather than musing about the origins and value of art.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946724-03-8

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Acre

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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