Another excellent Appel collection of intelligent, humanistic, and witty stories that bite.

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These short stories and a novella explore, with Appel’s (Millard Salter’s Last Day, 2017, etc.) trademark dark humor, contemporary life and its ethical dilemmas.

As in his previous, fine collections, the author draws on his experiences as a physician, attorney, and bioethicist to inform these tales. Questions of right and wrong play out in familiar settings, usually suburban, and they seldom offer easy answers. The first story, “The Children’s Lottery,” crosses Jonathan Swift’s essay “A Modest Proposal” with Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” A third-grade teacher, Oriana Hapley, receives notice that in three days, a registered pedophile will visit her classroom and choose one child. Oriana is upset, hoping very much that her favorite student won’t be chosen—but she feels that allowing pedophiles “a few children for their collective use” is safer and fairer for everyone: pedophiles no longer need to kidnap and murder, she thinks, and the lottery children are said to be resilient. Appel presents this horrific scenario with a straight face, making it all the more stinging as a satire of seemingly rational solutions for complex social problems. All the stories here are well-observed, combining poignancy with often darkly shaded humor, but the title piece is particularly fine in exploring Appel’s concerns. In it, Ted Grossbard, a psychiatrist, returns to his childhood home to clean it out after his hoarder mother’s death. He agrees to write an ethical advice column for a local newspaper owned by his longtime (and married) crush, Erica Sucram. A rival columnist, Lester Findlay, who’s also a con man who cheated Grossbard’s mother, steals his ideas; unfortunately, “run-of-the-mill ethical dilemmas” can’t be copyrighted. In disgust, Grossbard advises letter writers to do exactly as they please, making his column extremely popular—as well as easier to write. Later, he decides to burn down the man’s ratty office and frame Erica’s husband. The illicit plan’s careful, if not entirely successful, execution is entertaining, putting readers in an engagingly complicit position: just like the town, they get to enjoy Grossbard’s ethical dereliction. After all, Grossbard concludes, “being right wasn’t everything.”

Another excellent Appel collection of intelligent, humanistic, and witty stories that bite.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946684-04-2

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Vandalia Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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