FINDING AGAIN THE WORLD

An exceptional collection.

A dozen stories from a fine Canadian writer that explore the discomforts and occasional delights life offers.

Three boys discover a kind of outdoor Sunday school with games and parables run by a couple. After they join in, one of the youths steals the man’s fountain pen and destroys it violently. An old man compels a boy to come to tea, belittles his intelligence, and tries to force him to feel a hole in his leg from a Boer War bullet. A man in a wheelchair politely listens to two missionaries and as they leave shouts: “If I was standing up…I’d be six foot three.” That story is remarkable for three pages of painstaking detail describing how the disabled man manages a bath. Metcalf (The Canadian Short Story, 2018, etc.) displays a masterful deployment of well-observed, pointed details. A man resting at an outdoor cafe from his tour of Rome spends two pages following the movements of three lizards, which echo the inevitable routines and rancor that arise with organized travel. Two of the better tales (“Ceazer Salad” and “The Museum at the End of the World”) appeared in a 2016 collection, The Museum at the End of the World. Another standout here is “The Estuary,” in which the troubled narrator shifts from a fitful talk therapy to a lyrical memory of seeing a pair of porpoises in Wales. In the comic, brittle “Gentle as Flowers Make the Stones,” a struggling poet works mentally on a few lines as he tries to get review work from an editor and anticipates being paid for a reading in a wealthy woman’s home. Harsh reality, hope, and caricature mingle in this tour de force. As Metcalf says in his previous book, “Writing is very hard work but at the same time it is delightful play.”

An exceptional collection.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77196-252-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

Categories:

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

Categories:

SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

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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