A HARD TIME TO BE A FATHER

Nineteen new stories from Weldon (Wicked Women, etc.) that, even when fragmentary, sizzle with intellectual energy and acerbic wit. Weldon is noted for her tales of the war between the sexes, a war where victory doesn—t always go to the strong or the deserving. Like a war correspondent, her dispatches from the battlefield both shock and instruct, but, as sex may be just one big cosmic joke, humor and satire often relieve the underlying bitterness. Pieces such as “Percentage Trust” and “Inspector Remorse—describe, respectively, a woman who coolly calculates every action in percentage terms during her affair with a man, whom she rightly doesn’t trust; and a married woman and art critic who sits in church on Good Friday trying to decide whether she’s a sociopath because she feels no remorse for the suicide of the wife of the artist she seduced. The wittiest story here is “What the Papers Say—: a successful model and a married movie star have an affair, which, when discovered, becomes headline news. Their careers are ruined, and their lives change in unsuspected ways, but by the time mitigating facts are revealed, other tales—of an air crash, of a royal divorce—have risen to take their place. In the title story, a mordant modern allegory, Weldon mocks bureaucratic contemporary health care, fatherhood, pop psychology, and even feminism when a prospective father faints, sickens, and is rushed to a local emergency room upon hearing the word “baby.” Other standouts detail parents’ scandalous behavior that fortuitously prevents an unsuitable marriage (—A Great Antipodean Scandal” ); a mother’s contradictory admonitions that finally make sense (—My Mother Said—); and a haunted house exorcized by the marriage of its owner to a man who feels that he has mistreated his own house (—Spirits Fly South—). Some unevenness, but always bracing and full of zest.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-58234-011-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

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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