Some readers will find these stories repetitive and aridly arty. But the dialogue is witty and erudite, the style lapidary,...


The latest from Tuten, one of the gray eminences of the American avant-garde (The Green Hour, 2002, etc.), is a collection of enigmatic and interconnected stories about love, death, myth and memory.

Most of these meditative fictions feature two principal characters, a first-person narrator—sometimes a painter or an art critic, always exquisitely sensitive, worldly, prone to allude to myth, literature, music and the visual arts—and a woman who’s a sort of shape-shifting Eternal Beloved. Over and again, in exotic places and in circumstances often tinged with dream-logic or Borgesian whimsy, they meet and spar and touch and (often) part. In “Self Portrait with Circus,” a lovelorn ringmaster vies with the strongman for the heart of his wire-walking love (and is consoled in his heartache by the wise, dignified elephants); in “The Park Near Marienbad,” a lonely art critic, still grieving his long-dead wife, eavesdrops on a young couple’s cafe repartee and tries to write himself into their story, and thus back into his own. “Self Portrait with Icebergs” ends with a schooner “like a burning fruit encased in ice” steaming down Avenue B toward the Narrows and then the open sea, bound for Antarctica; “Self Portrait with Cheese” is a surrealist fever dream; in “The Park on Fire,” a man leaves his wife reading in a hotel and embarks on a stroll in the park that becomes a trip through an inferno, the tour led this time not by Virgil but by Federico García Lorca.

Some readers will find these stories repetitive and aridly arty. But the dialogue is witty and erudite, the style lapidary, and there are moments of elegiac lyricism to rival Tuten’s great Tintin in the New World (1993).

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-393-07905-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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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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