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The latest winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction, about working-class fathers and sons: a collection of 17 stories—hard-luck fiction with a vengeance—set mostly in northern Michigan. Loss and violence season a number of these pieces. In the title story, a boy drowns when he tries to swim underwater from one ice-fishing shanty to another, and the narrator, a boy who survives to tell the tale, understands that the drowning victim, Ashelby Judge, knew about storytelling: ``Judge said you could measure a story by its private disclosures, by how far a person came forward to confess a part of himself, asking for forgiveness.'' Driscoll takes such an aesthetic to heart, whether writing (in ``Pig and Lobsters'') about a single father who falls for a woman only to be stood up, whereupon (witnessed by his son) he kills a pig and sidearms a lobster ``as hard as he could against the unpainted boards''; or about a father and son (in ``Death Parts'') who shoot a bear but must trade it for auto parts when their car breaks down. Many narrators here, in fact, are driven to do what they do by such family relationships. In ``Flee to Jesus,'' a father prone to crackups is hired to kill deer that are destroying fruit trees, and the son comes to see his own impotence: ``I never learned how to prevent his crackups, how to intervene early and stave off the madness.'' These sons learn how essential forgiveness is, as well as how important the crucible of plot can be: ``Good writing should make your reader's knees go weak.'' Driscoll occasionally contrives an action or implausibly forces a character into weirdness, but mostly the weirdness comes naturally. An impressive, gritty northern Michigan version of Andre Dubus.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-87023-808-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992

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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 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

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