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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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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