Satire both hilarious and profound, peppered with a few near-misses that border on the glib.



Comic Southern writer’s debut collection presents a sardonic view of the tics and foibles of the odd, inept, unhappy and underemployed.

Pendarvis’s collection includes two tales focusing on superheroes, one fictitious literary catalogue, a made-up “contributors” section, a few letters to the editor and the titular novella, among other things. The result is a charming pastiche of Southern wit, with characters evoked through humorous asides and eccentric tendencies. Pendarvis adopts a dry-eyed, aw-shucks tone through consciously amateur writing, highlighting the characters’ endearing humanity even as it gently ribs them. “The Pipe” sets up a drama of Beckettian absurdity, as two characters, known only as “the security guard” and “the paramedic,” guard the air pipe that feeds a radio deejay buried alive as a promotional stunt. The deadbeat paramedic and the naïve though noble security guard have bizarre brushes with love, loneliness, sex, power and death, all in the service of someone who may or may not be at the pipe’s other end. The other standout piece is the novella, whose protagonist is an amateur historian attempting to pen the dreary story of his nowhere town, Newberry, after being fired from his job. His efforts and academic pretensions are hilariously inept, though he maintains an incongruent optimism as he suffers derision at home, lusts creepily after his young sister-in-law and encounters innumerable miscreants who mean him various degrees of harm. While the literary jabs found here are highly entertaining (one disgruntled reviewer of an invented book remarks, “Kirkus Reviews is going to eat this shit up”), it’s the depictions of fragile humanity and the subtle social critiques that are truly affecting.

Satire both hilarious and profound, peppered with a few near-misses that border on the glib.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2005

ISBN: 1-59692-128-5

Page Count: 198

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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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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