THE AFTERLIFE

AND OTHER STORIES

"The Big Guy is getting our range," says the 60ish protagonist of the title story. Death is catching up with many of the characters in Updike's (Brazil, 1994, etc.) latest short-story collection, which may explain the tilt toward familial reminiscence and corresponding loss of narrative bite. It is memory, memory of a three-way love involving a mother, her son, and their home, that fuels the longest offering, "A Sandstone Farmhouse"; despite moments of exquisite pathos, it is too detailed and static. (A tighter companion piece, "The Black Room," works better.) A much shorter, essaylike fiction celebrates "the smell of family, family without end" that emanates from "The Brown Chest." The family also figures in the more conventionally structured stories. Some old friends, the Maples, reappear in "Grandparenting," jostling amusingly for pride of place at the birth of their first grandchild, while in "Brother Grasshopper," about two brothers-in-law, it is the seemingly feckless one who proves the truer custodian of the family's identity. For the older characters, death is not always an adversary: Carter ("The Afterlife") and Fanshawe ("Playing with Dynamite") feel serenely indifferent to its approach. True terror does strike once, for a cancer victim and her hospital visitor ("The Journey to the Dead"). But Updike's playfulness surfaces in his story of a clairvoyant Scottish caddie ("Farrell's Caddie") and in his witty sketch of a dental hygienist ("Tristan and Iseult"). Nor have the bright lights of adultery altogether dimmed. Two separately married members disrupt their suburban recorder group when they become lovers ("The Man Who Became a Soprano"). Then there is the sparkling "Baby's First Step" in which Glenn, a 36-year-old lawyer, begins a second career as a philanderer by seducing his best friend's wife, and death could not be farther away. Not among the best of Updike's collections, but even the duller stories yield extraordinary pleasures of language and perception.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43583-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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