Well-chosen and broadly representative: an ideal introduction to Busch for those new to him and a welcome anthology for...

Sterling collection of short fiction by a late master (1941-2006) of the short story form.

Busch (Rescue Missions, 2006, etc.) has been gone for several years, but he continues to exercise an outsize influence on writers-in-training, enshrined as he is in the creative-writing syllabus. That is for good reason, for if Busch’s short fiction concentrates on the quotidian workaday world, it is not with the dourness of Raymond Carver or the bibulousness of Charles Bukowski. Busch announces his stories with attention-getting first lines that demand explanation: “I woke up at 5:25 because the dog was vomiting.” “What we know about pain is how little we do to deserve it, how simple it is to give, how hard to lose.” “The morning after I drove to his newest town, I met my father for breakfast.” His characters are plumbers (“I dig for what’s wrong”), ward nurses (“[t]he worst became the orderly who brought in a plate of mashed potatoes and open hot roast-beef sandwich in glutinous gravy”), outdoorsmen (“[i]t’s an old Boy Scout trick”), often living in forgotten small towns that have yet to get Internet service. A typical Busch story finds the central character not quite sure of his (rarely, her) place in the world and with some change in the works, sometimes wanted and sometimes not: “I was nine years old and starting to age.” It’s not a cheery world that Busch inhabits (“the people downstairs were getting along as best they could in their sad, short lives”), but it’s full of meaning, and no living writer quite gets at that meaning with the same literate determination.

Well-chosen and broadly representative: an ideal introduction to Busch for those new to him and a welcome anthology for those who already know his work.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-23954-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004


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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