Darkly comical; readers will be ready for more.


In his debut short story collection, Cross realistically documents fears, loss and the complexities of relationships by glimpsing into a dozen different lives.

The 12 stories feature a cast of varied characters with one commonality: They’re all troubled by events from their past. Marty, a sixth-grade boy, resorts to violence after the death of his father; Lenny’s bad luck comes to define him; and Ronny finds a surprising ally in the son of his high school bully from years ago. Cross’ stories meditate on what it means to experience pain, and his characters demonstrate that there are many different ways of coping. The captivating first line of each story hints at the tension that follows, especially in “Hunters,” which begins: “The winter I turned twenty-seven, I followed a woman who said she might love me to a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, a go-between place that provided me with little comfort, except maybe to say that its prospects seemed worse than my own.” The endings are usually just as enticing; mirroring reality, they aren’t clean, definitive conclusions but rather a place for readers to leave the character, confident he or she is in good hands, and move on to the next. Cross’ descriptions allow readers to conjure a clear image of each character, as evidenced by the introduction of Lenny, who was blind in his left eye, “the blackness of his pupil leaking into his iris like spilled ink.” Thematic similarities throughout the collection make it difficult for one story to stand out among the rest, but it also amounts to a pleasing consistency. It’s clear that Cross is capable of full-length fiction, which would be a welcome next step for such a talent.

Darkly comical; readers will be ready for more.

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1936873074

Page Count: 195

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

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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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