Drab, elitist victimhood dressed up in glittery prose.

A third collection from Somerset Maugham–winner Simpson (Four Bare Legs in a Bed, 1992, etc.): nine bitter stories, many loosely interconnected, about upper-middle-class British women overburdened by family.

In “Golden Apples,” 17-year-old Jade wanders her suburban London neighborhood, scoffing at its bourgeois trappings and imagining how her life will be different She is particularly critical of her mother, a professional woman everyone else praises as “so amazing, what she managed to pack into twenty-four hours.” Then by chance Jade encounters the author’s first of many overwhelmed, overweight, falling-apart, stay-at-home moms whose intelligence is atrophying under the pressure of husbands and children. Listening to the despair of this unnamed woman, whose child has a bean stuck up her nose, Jade begins to appreciate her own mother’s elegant competence. Jade reappears only fleetingly in other tales, as babysitter or daughter, but her energy and blind hopefulness haunt the remaining pages, in which adult women lack anything resembling hope. Some can’t talk to each other, despite their shared experiences, because they have lost the ability to speak for themselves (“Café Society”); others, like Dorrie in the title piece, are so entirely dedicated to their families that they have no space left for self. The men are nonentities at best, and Simpson’s depiction of the children is even more disturbing. Considering their offsprings’ spoiled, whining, devouring natures, it’s no wonder Simpson’s mothers are miserable. (When Dorrie sees “the gleam in his eyes and teeth,” her son’s hungry, animal quality is apparent.) The several tales about working women offer no joy rides either. Jade’s highly efficient mother, Nicola, muses on her life with forced self-satisfaction during a long business dinner honoring “Burns and the Bankers,” while, in “Wurstigkeit,” two women sneak away from their professional lives for a secret, decadent shopping spree. But real happiness eludes them all.

Drab, elitist victimhood dressed up in glittery prose.

Pub Date: June 21, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-41109-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001



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



The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

Close Quickview