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Winner of the Flannery O—Connor Award, Soos’s first fiction shows talent galore one moment and tries your patience with the familiar and homespun the next. Soos’s eye for detail and his judgment for selecting it can be as good as you—ll find, but his glimpses into people’s daily life aren—t always tonic enough to offset the malaise of the sentimental—as in —When the Hoot Owl Moves Its Nest,— a man’s remembering back to an adultery of his wife’s (—Mostly what people call love is just another word for pain—). More keen-edged but not necessarily less strained is —Nickerson’s Luck,— about a divorced accountant starting an affair with a waitress who may be below him in privilege and class (—Mister, you don—t know what bad luck is—) but proves his superior in wile. In search of symbols to echo and carry his meaning, Soos can be guilty of leaving psychological believability behind, as in the story of the kindly but hyperbolically weak-willed father in —Ray’s Boat.— —Trip to Sometimes Island— does a good job of encapsulating the life of a car mechanic who—ll never be anything more than he is but knows he’s not enough; and —If You Meet the Buddha by the Road— does the same for a high-school genius (“Two things have made Western Civilization worthwhile: the bicycle and the pocket knife. Otherwise, it’s all been a waste of effort—) who never found his way in life afterward. —Key to the Kingdom— is a fine but familiar dissection of small-town life—with religion, adultery, and suicide—and —Unified Field Theory,— bristling with ambition in the tale of another almost-ne—er-do-well, even so can blend a glibness in among the gems (—Acted on by gravity, electromagnetic fields, solar wind, ether wind, lunar attractions, who among us can claim to be truly responsible for anything that happens?—). Talent at work—but also waiting for new territory.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8203-2048-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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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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The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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