Merits comparison with the understated artistry of William Trevor or Graham Swift.

IT’S BEGINNING TO HURT

STORIES

Stellar collection combines a sharp eye for detail, subtle character development and virtuosic command of narrative voice.

A British native who now lives in upstate New York, Lasdun (Seven Lies, 2006, etc.) also writes poetry, novels and screenplays, but his fourth volume of stories suggests that his strength lies in the short form. The title piece is the shortest, less than two-and-a-half pages, and functions as the prose equivalent of haiku in its evocation of an affair, a death and a marriage that is all but dead. Yet that same title could apply to practically every one of these stories, which often detail a pivotal point at which a man (usually) comes to terms with his essential character and discovers something hurtful or troubling about himself. In “An Anxious Man” (most of the titles are far more generic than the stories themselves), an inheritance disrupts a family’s equilibrium, as the wife’s attempts to play the stock market during an economic downturn make the husband fearful of everything, even as he questions his judgment. “Was it possible to change?” asks the protagonist of “The Natural Order,” a faithful husband whose trip with an incorrigible womanizer leaves him both appalled and envious. In “Cleanness,” a widower’s marriage to a much younger woman forces his son to confront his own indelible impurities. “A Bourgeois Story” explores “the peculiar economy of…conscience,” as an unexpected reunion of college friends, one of whom has become a well-to-do lawyer while the other has turned increasingly radical, leaves the former as uncomfortable with his own life as he is with his one-time friend. Chance encounters and unlikely connections prove particularly revelatory throughout. The piece that is least like the others, “Annals of the Honorary Secretary,” provides a mysterious parable of art that concludes, “Like most lyric gifts, it was short-lived. On the other hand, the critical exegesis has only just begun.”

Merits comparison with the understated artistry of William Trevor or Graham Swift.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-374-29902-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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