Readers might find this less compelling as fiction than as a glimpse into what Hollywood was “really” like.


This uneven collection focuses on issues of status and morality (or lack thereof) during the heyday of the studio star system.

One of the most popular and prolific writers of his era, O’Hara wrote novels that were adapted into movies (Pal Joey, 1957; Butterfield 8, 1960, etc.) and cashed some paychecks as a screenwriter, but he never devoted a novel to Hollywood. Yet his experiences there provided plenty of inspiration for his fiction, as this posthumous collection of 22 stories attests. Spanning 36 years, the anthology proceeds chronologically, starting with early 1930s pieces for the New Yorker that are barely stories at all, mainly vignettes or conversations of a couple pages or slightly more. In the 1960s, O’Hara progressed to longer pieces that are more engaging and compelling. Though editor Bruccoli in his introduction describes these—“Natica Jackson” and “James Francis and the Star” among them—as “primarily character stories,” O’Hara’s characters typically lack the depth and complexity of individuals and are more like stereotypes. He’s most concerned with actresses who are past their prime (or, occasionally on the verge), who invariably owe their success to accidents of looks and luck rather than to anything approaching talent. In 1969’s “The Sun Room,” a proudly notorious former star speaks for many in this collection when she says she’d like to teach an acting course where one week she’d “lecture on bust development” and the next “demonstrate the technique of the casting couch.” Writers in these stories are intellectually superior to actors, though not always morally so. Hollywood husbands are predominantly gay, even possibly the one in “In a Grove” who marries a hooker and offers her to an acquaintance for $100. Dialogue is O’Hara’s strength, though some of it dates these stories.

Readers might find this less compelling as fiction than as a glimpse into what Hollywood was “really” like.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-7867-1872-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2006

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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