Dispirited young people with small dreams and short sight.

THE HISTORY OF VEGAS

STORIES

Nightmarish memories from high school make up Angel’s weightless and grim first collection.

The characters in these ten stories here aren’t necessarily the kinds you’d want to spend a lot of time with. Take the teenagers, for instance, high on pot in “Donny,” with nothing better to do than torture the narrator’s family dog. They’re on their way to college, maybe, but first they have to initiate the younger sibling of the high school senior of the first story, “Portions,” who returns from getting high by the river with her friends to show her overweight younger sister the health benefits of vomiting. “The History of Vegas” is a depressing tale of hopeless youth given little glimpse of more uplifting lives than those to be spent in battering and prostitution. A 17-year-old boy making a trek to Vegas with his mother and bruised Aunt Dolores to get her a divorce meets a pubescent hooker he befriends and takes back to his motel room. Even their idyllic moment together is tainted and cheapened by the arrival of Dolores’s brutal ex-husband, Uncle Charlie. Elements deliberately undeveloped, like the presence in Charlie’s Crown Vic of his silent co-worker, who makes no addition to the denouement except as a menace, lend the stories unfinished if surprising endings. The young protagonists take comfort where they can, with no help from parents, as in “Supplement,” set during harvest-time on a vegetable farm. The young narrator, Jaycee, becomes entangled in the romance of a neighbor couple while having to quiet the fears of her younger brother, who is nervous about their parents’ feuding. “The Skin from the Muscle” finds a young man home alone (his mother having abandoned him and his father months before) when two women deer-hunters come knocking to use the phone. The startling turn of some of these pieces is mitigated by the overriding bleakness of tone and setting.

Dispirited young people with small dreams and short sight.

Pub Date: July 22, 2005

ISBN: 0-8118-4625-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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