Consistent and moving tales, a winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award (also see Sutton, below).




A third collection from Fincke (Emergency Calls, 1996, etc.) is as steady as a hammer, nailing the emotional shifts of men hovering over the half-century mark.

The title piece of the 12 stories here sets the terrain: Ben works at a bookstore and spends his Friday nights drinking beer at his friend Jerry’s clubhouse—a shrine, though from 150 miles away, to Pittsburgh sports. Since he turned 50, Ben’s annual visits to his physician, Dr. Parrish, have included the invasive exam that checks the prostate. This time, she suggests further tests, and his worries have a new focus (“He needed to shut up about the 1950s. He had color in his hair; he had a flat stomach; concentrate your stories in the ’60s, he said to himself . . . .”). Mostly, Fincke’s straightforward narratives open up to glimmers of insight, as when Ben thinks, “Everything . . . was so dreadful . . . it couldn’t be spoken. It didn’t matter that he suspected everybody carried such a secret, and that the only thing that prevented them from hating each other was silence.” Other men cope with vasovagal incidents, brain surgery, a mother’s death, a daughter’s vulnerability to danger. In “Gatsby, Tender, Paradise,” a father’s concern about the attentiveness of his teenaged daughter’s English teacher is misplaced, but it turns out his protective instincts are right. “The History of Staying Awake” throws a curveball at an insomniac who sets out at two a.m. to buy ice cream and ends up in the middle of a domestic dispute between a couple in the housing projects. The wife, Tanya, jumps into his van and insists he drive her to her mother to escape Damon, who tracks down the “hero” for revenge. Fincke’s description of Damon is typical of his precision: “His hair, short on the sides, hung down to his shoulders in the back. It looked like the kind of haircut you’d give a small dog, one of those breeds that snarls at your shoes.”

Consistent and moving tales, a winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award (also see Sutton, below).

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8203-2656-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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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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