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Archer aptly cites O. Henry, along with Saki and John Buchan, as his masters, but the real model for these tales is the...

Despite the title, none of the 14 stories megaselling Archer (The Eleventh Commandment, 1998, etc.) exhibits here are abridgements of potential novels; practically all of them are expansions of paragraph-length anecdotes.

The tendency to embroider pat morals is clearest from the titles of the nine stories based on actual incidents. A champion of apartheid receives a tolerance transplant along with the heart of the African his automobile killed in “A Change of Heart.” A house built on the troubled border of the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland comes under attack in “Both Sides Against the Middle.” The brief “Love at First Sight” could easily have been boiled down further to an anniversary toast, or still further to “boy meets girl.” Even when Archer’s detailing the confidence schemes that give shape to so many of these tales—the hoary deception in “Something for Nothing,” the more elaborate moneymaking plot in “Crime Pays,” the plausible suitor who lays siege to a wealthy wife in “Too Many Coincidences”—their cleverness takes a backseat to the image of the conscientious recorder jotting down notes from a daily newspaper. The stories Archer makes up himself are just as foursquare and functional in their moralizing. A wealthy widower tests the affections of his heirs by pretending to be bankrupt in “The Endgame.” A self-regarding artist who spends a lifetime sponging off his brother gets his comeuppance in “Chalk and Cheese.” Everybody at Critchley’s Bank wishes he were somebody else in “The Grass is Always Greener . . . ,” a theme treated just as effectively a hundred years ago, and at a third the length, in O. Henry’s “The Social Triangle.”

Archer aptly cites O. Henry, along with Saki and John Buchan, as his masters, but the real model for these tales is the after-dinner speaker who wouldn’t dream of taxing your brain after the long day you’ve had.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-018552-X

Page Count: 272

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2000

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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