This second collection by the author of The Garden State (1988) gathers 13 slick but formulaic stories, half of which have appeared in small magazines. Krist profiles a number of suburban misfits in these fictions, three of which chronicle a teenaged boy's view of his parents' crumbling marriage. His mother suffers a miscarriage (``Ghost Story''); grows increasingly erratic until she finds fulfilling work in a zoo (``Giant Step''); and flirts with a handsome college boy while summering without dad on the Jersey shore (``Numbers''). More flighty women people stories about an indexer separated from her philandering husband (the title story); a lesbian college administrator who can't adjust to separation from her lover (``Safe Houses''); and a mysterious woman named Alice who appears from nowhere in a man's life and disappears just as mysteriously (``Ever Alice''). Men fare no better in Krist's tales of failed relationships—certainly not the young man leaving a girlfriend who suffers from MS in ``Baggage,'' nor the divorced dad whose daughter doesn't want to see him in ``Eclipse.'' The real oddballs here provide some comic relief: there's the young embalmer, the son of a former call girl, who wants to leave Westchester County for the freedom of Alaska (``Hungry''); the elderly, left-wing homosexual photographer who refuses to acknowledge his diminished capacities even to his sympathetic bisexual nephew (``Uncle Issac''); and the truly oafish young man who lives with his widowed mother in Brooklyn, and who's flabbergasted by her pregnancy and impending marriage (``Unique Szechuan II''). No story stands out in this calculated collection of contemporary goofiness. Sharp dialogue and an economic style can't compensate for utter predictability.

Pub Date: April 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-15-182064-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1994

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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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