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THE DEVELOPMENT

NINE STORIES

Strongest and freshest when it explores the terra infirma of old age.

National Book Award winner Barth’s latest (Where Three Roads Meet, 2005, etc.), a slender collection of linked stories set on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Heron Bay Estates is an oddity for the region: a gated community of the Florida type, complete with resident stickers, a clubhouse and a homeowner’s association. Many residents are retirees, some making the slow transition from mansions to either “villas” (horizontal duplexes) or “coach homes” (vertical duplexes), and from there the sad move to assisted living. The best work here is the most conventional. In “Peeping Tom,” the community is in some ways brought together, in some ways sundered, in others simply entertained by the possibility that a stranger may be peering in through windows at bodies and lives that seem to their owners increasingly invisible and unsought-after. Equally strong is “Toga Party,” the account of a lavish elder-bacchanal that ends with a loving couple deciding spontaneously, but with chilling persuasiveness, to commit suicide by asphyxiation in their garage. The book is weakest when the author does what he did more inventively and exuberantly years ago, as in several tales narrated by retired creative-writing professor George Newett that feature Barth’s hallmark postmodern indeterminacy and self-consciousness. There are broad hints that the book is fiction devised by Newett, or devised by Barth devising behind Newett. That’s the sort of fiction the author prefers, we sense, as Newett, comparing his own stories to the “more imaginative perpetrations” of a student, laments that they seem like “pallid rehashes” of Updike, Cheever and O’Hara, “the muted epiphanies and petty nuances of upper-middle-class life.” This anxiety drains some power from his low-key, clear-eyed, battered-but-unbowed portrait of the diminishments and minor pleasures of age. Barth’s prose still has its sinew and snap; he examines near-decrepitude with mordant, rueful wit. No need for narratorial hand-wringing over failure to push the fictional envelope.

Strongest and freshest when it explores the terra infirma of old age.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-547-07248-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2008

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THE COMPLETE STORIES

The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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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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