Capable social comedy laced with pitiless wit.

GOOD WOMEN

NOVELLAS

British novelist Stevenson (The Empress of the Last Days, 2004, etc.) returns to the novella form of her first book.

Three short fictions make up this new work, each focused on the shortcomings of its female central character, as ironically pointed out by the title. None of these heroines is conventionally good, although the first, Freda, is highly skilled in bed. Stevenson treats them all with a degree of disdain, differentiating their failings in stories distinguished by brisk narration, old-fashioned craft (and content), a dash of predictability and a cool attitude to all concerned. In each, the home symbolizes money, class and social striving, and is the setting for brooding mischief before an explosive finale. “Light My Fire” is narrated by architect David, whose all-consuming affair with Freda leads to marriage and the purchase of a ruined, 16th-century Scottish tower-house, the refurbishment and sale of which will fund the couple’s move to London. But the union splits apart with a bang after Freda commits an act of folly. “Walking With Angels” showcases another ruptured household, this time the less affluent home of Wenda and Derek. When Wenda starts to see angels—or are they hallucinations brought on by a mental disorder?—and wants to set up a New Age business to channel their positive energy, the dilemma of who holds the purse strings brings about a violent rearrangement. “Garden Guerrillas” sees a slight softening of attitude as Stevenson returns to the middle class, with widowed Alice rediscovering her decisiveness when resisting her son and pushy daughter-in-law’s attempts to oust her from the valuable family home and its beloved garden. Alice retaliates by planting invasive roses and bamboo supplied by an old flame.

Capable social comedy laced with pitiless wit.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-46217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2005

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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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