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Clever fables about nightmares both real and imagined.

Maine-based writer Manderino (The H-Bomb and the Jesus Rock, 2010, etc.) plumbs the depth of domestic horror in these fleeting but beguiling stories about ghosts, murders, monsters, and madmen.

In “A Certain Fellow Named Phil,” our narrator confesses to killing Veronica, an inflatable sex doll. “Nessie” finds a middle schooler obsessed with the sea monster and the sadness of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” In “Bigfoot Tells All,” the mighty beast tells us about his girlfriend (a bear) and the time he ate a person recently: “The look on that man’s face. Priceless.” “Wolfman and Janice” is a domestic drama in the vein of Tom Waits about a werewolf and his girlfriend. The title story finds an old woman frightened of a bump in the night speaking to a dead husband who may or may not be imagined. “I don’t think I’m going to die tonight,” she says. “But I’ll be there soon, George, I’m sure. Meanwhile, be happy, dear. But not completely.” In “No Place Like Home,” a boy wonders about the differences between Dorothy Gale and a local girl named Gloria. “But maybe Dorothy had the right idea, staying close to home,” he ponders. “Gloria’s body was discovered one morning under some bushes in a park two towns away, her bicycle lying nearby.” “Bob and Todd” covers the dialogue between a hitchhiker and a driver who may or may not have a dead body in the trunk. In “Jamey’s Sister,” a dead soldier’s sister must compose a letter to the president. “Mr. President, do you know what you are? You are a monster. You don’t have horns or hoofs or fangs or fur, but that is what you are, a monster,” she writes. Still other stories concern themselves with twisted versions of Barbie, Nancy Drew, and other pop-culture icons.

Clever fables about nightmares both real and imagined.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61373-475-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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