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 20, 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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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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