A completist’s dream, as well as a comprehensive overview of Purdy’s themes and—yes—obsessions.

READ REVIEW

THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF JAMES PURDY

The late (1914–2009) fiction writer, whose work sharply divided critical opinion from the start, receives his due with this vast but fast-moving collection of short stories.

Dip into the book, counsels fugitive filmmaker John Waters in his introduction, and you’ll find “a perfectly perverted Purdy story,” one that, he adds, will yield “hilarious moral damage and beautiful decay that will certainly follow in your dreams.” The description seems apt, though Purdy’s themes, sometimes homoerotic and sometimes obsessive, transcend the merely sexual: Waters’ word “perverted” might more closely track Purdy’s gloomy, angry, mistrustful sense of the world. His characters are often argumentative, bitter, unhappy, full of malign intent. In one particularly unpleasant example, a woman awakens as if from a dream to decide that after years of married life she cannot stand her husband’s name—and by extension, her husband. He repays the sentiment by hitting her “not too gently over the mouth,” making her bleed and drawing a crowd. In another, a young man murders a “young uncle” for what he considers good cause and then shoots himself: “his brains and pieces of skull rushed out from under his fair curly hair onto the glass behind the pillars, onto the screen door, the blood flew like a gentle summer shower.” In yet another, a less violent Chekhov pastiche, a swindle takes flight as a “whim of Fortune,” ruinous for some and a boon for others. You’ll either be enchanted or repelled, and Purdy seems to occupy no middle ground: Whereas Jonathan Franzen has championed him, Edmund White has professed to be “allergic” to Purdy’s work. A bonus: Several of the stories are previously unpublished, some by design.    

A completist’s dream, as well as a comprehensive overview of Purdy’s themes and—yes—obsessions.

Pub Date: July 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-87140-669-9

Page Count: 780

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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