Longtime ex-pat Rylands delivers a charming portrait of Venice in a dozen stories that view the city from the perspectives of both natives and outsiders.

There’s always a lilting tone of history here, as though what we’re getting is fiction, travelogue, and lesson all wrapped into one. “Postman” begins with Luigi, “not a spazzino, nor any other kind of steward of the most serene Republic. He was a postino, a minion of the State of Italy.” Luigi’s tour of Venice serves as introduction, and he’s a character who will periodically recur. Venetian society comes under fire in “Collector,” when book heiress Trudi Gotham (another recurring figure) entertains a baroness who’s on the hunt for a particular diary. An American decorator in “Visitor,” in Italy for the first time, provides a more distant picture of Venice as he delivers a package trusted to him by a beautiful woman he meets on the plane. Another foreigner figures in the account of the marriage and fatherhood of a Venetian “Socialite,” Bo Benson, originally of Mobile, Alabama. “Mayor” catalogues the eccentric leader of the town, who skis down the 97 steps from his official abode and plays hooky from official events so he can watch Roman Holiday with his wife. “Mother” returns to Luigi’s apartment and provides a wonderful caricature of the family there—before the home suddenly catches on fire (is something of the old Venice about to be lost?). This is a Venice built not on canals, but on character and emotion. With so much interconnectedness to the tales, you wonder why Rylands, Venetian resident for nearly two decades, didn’t simply stitch them together into a novel that might have read like Lawrence Durrell. But no matter: these are charming tales of the personal vision of a city with a highly public character.

A smart and vivid debut.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-42232-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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