A thoughtful collection in which the strongest stories are the most understated.

The Blue Hole and Other Stories

Short stories that explore turning points in people’s lives, often from a working-class point of view.

The title of one of Hendrix’s (Tour of Duty, 2012) 14 short pieces, “Seminal Moments,” could stand for most of the others. Each captures a pivotal experience, whether of a boy gaining new understanding of himself (“The Blue Hole”), an old man making a grim decision (“Life Along the Mississippi”) or a couple understanding their relationship is truly over (“The Pier at Nature’s Point”). The stories’ points of view are mostly masculine, with “Patty” a notable exception (“The Attic” includes both male and female viewpoints). Many take place in a timeless American past, often in the South, where everyone has short, plain names such as Mike, Tom, Linda or Bill. The stories’ adults are mostly working-class—a bricklayer, a small-business owner, a soldier—and several are like John in “Following the Trade”: “Hard work was something he knew from childhood. It was a way of life, and he knew no other.” In one of the most successful stories, “Hullaballoo,” Buck, a civil engineer, doesn’t even think of himself in white-collar terms; what’s important to him is working “shoulder to shoulder with other men, their work talk, the sounds of heavy equipment running.” These bring him “a sense of ease and a clear head. As long as there was hullaballoo, he was fine.” Hendrix shows a talent for dialogue when he captures the rhythms of the loud, busy bar where Buck hangs out. He also skillfully brings out Buck’s need for noise and movement, and when Buck tells the bartender that he can help with some work by saying, “I’m available,” the words capture Buck’s world of lonely extroversion. That said, a few stories are less subtle and thus less successful, such as the title story, which reads like a boy’s heroic fantasy of saving someone’s life.

A thoughtful collection in which the strongest stories are the most understated. 

Pub Date: March 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1492961321

Page Count: 230

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2014

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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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