Williams has a facility for getting inside characters and exposing their essential isolation and loneliness.




An aptly titled collection of 15 short stories whose characters can be rather prickly indeed.

Williams sets a number of his stories in the Southwest, both on and off Native American reservations, and we frequently sense nostalgia there. In “The Great Black Shape in the Water,” the opening story, the narrator takes pride in his mother’s strength, for she was able to lift the tail flukes of a beach-stranded whale. She was a member of the Quihwa tribe in Washington state, a band that by the end of the story we’re informed no longer existed. Like many of the narratives in the collection, this is a story about stories, about storytelling and even about myth-making. “Morsel” features a very different narrator, a college dropout spending the summer alone at her family’s cabin and working as a hostess at a local restaurant. She falls desperately in love with Sean, the twice-married chef who provides her with leftover food and plenty of physical affection. Unfortunately, she finds out he’s rather indiscriminate in sharing that affection with others, though by the end of the story she’s no less in love with him. In “Grey,” Williams further focuses on the tension between loneliness and relationships. Here, a college professor shares his love of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, as well as his sexual favors, with his students. On hearing of the death by breast cancer of a former professor of his, he recalls a time when he was 20 and had an affair with this professor as she was teaching him to love Archilochus’ poetry. “The Limousine in My Life” is a brilliant portrait of the 1950s, when the narrator has childhood memories of live nuclear tests, of tract housing, of his mother’s anger when his father came home one evening having bought a “limousine” in the form of a 1949 Dodge Coronado.

Williams has a facility for getting inside characters and exposing their essential isolation and loneliness.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-886157-94-1

Page Count: 204

Publisher: BkMk/Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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