WHEN I WAS MORTAL

A first English translation of a 1995 collection comprising 12 elliptical, often insidiously compelling stories from the prizewinning Spanish author, whose highly regarded fiction artfully blends Henry James's subtle indirection with flagrantly Gothic and Grand Guignol narrative materials. Two of Marías's novels, in fact, are here compressed and reimagined: the suave Oxford College comedy All Souls in ``No More Love,'' and the harrowing family psychodrama A Heart So White in ``The Honeymoon.'' Most of the pieces are brusque glimpses of lives derailed by quickstrike passions or moral confusions—all recorded by an aloof narrator who seems to stand comfortably outside the orbits of the individual ``worlds'' he observes so dispassionately. This limits the power of several tales to involve us—though there are a few striking exceptions: ``Fewer Scruples,'' told with weary selfmocking wit by a ``financially strapped' woman who auditions for a porno film; the bizarre detectivestory thriller ``Blood on a Spear''; and the brilliant title story, a monologue spoken by a ghost who understands the shape of his life only after having departed it, and learned how and why he died. Dependably intriguing (if uneven) work from one of Europe's most interesting contemporary writers.

Pub Date: April 27, 2000

ISBN: 0-8112-1431-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

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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