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A powerful collection.

A treasure-trove of stories, from the very earliest she ever published, to work published posthumously, from the late, great Frame.

Frame (1924-2004)—author of more than 20 books in multiple genres, winner of every literary prize she was eligible for in her native New Zealand, honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Literature—is a master. Thirteen of the 28 stories in this collection were unpublished in her lifetime, though one of the best, “The Gravy Boat,” was read aloud by the author on radio in 1953. The gravy boat, part of a set of china given to a retiring “Locomotive engineer,” leaves the recipient at sea. “I Got a Shoes,” “A Night at the Opera” and “Gorse is Not People” concern themselves with the insane and the institutions where they waste away, patronized and abused. All harrowing, the latter two are masterpieces. “The Wind Brother” is a fairy tale, “The Silkworms” a savage parody of the big fish in the small pond, “Gavin Highly” a piercing parable about the difference between meaning and value. According to the notes, many of the stories may be autobiographical; many cover material that Frame treated elsewhere. A mere 30 pages, “The Big Money” is the longest story. Told from the perspective of a youngest son, it follows the descent of a family, from gentle semirural poverty to urban squalor and tragedy, and hinges on a single hilarious misunderstanding. All overflow with dazzling observation and unforgettable metaphor: “a blue vein, like the thin giggle from inside a fish, lying, throbbing, under his skin.”

A powerful collection.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-6190-2169-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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