Philosophically savvy, entertaining, and whimsical in large part, with only a semi-rewarding latter half.


Aussie corporate headhunter quips a sonnet of his own demise, in a first novel by the author of, among others, Secrets of a Corporate Headhunter (1980).

Aptly named Chancey Haste, novice poet and founder of Haste & Co., employs reckless, power-driven “rainmakers” at his office in Sydney, and they in turn position underqualified clients in big business atmospheres. Chancey’s marriage to Jill, and the love of their two children, take the backburner to Elen Haverford, the classically intelligent daughter of a wealthy Brit magazine owner who entertains herself with Wildean witticisms and Hastean sexual appetites. Together, the two tour Godzone (God’s Own Country: New Zealand), quibbling over Shakespeare and enjoying their privileged lives. Meanwhile, though, Chancey’s accounts are dwindling and his Renfield-like sidekick Crawley is getting nervous. Haste & Co. has plans to open offices in New York and London, but it seems that Fuller Fyfe and “Brittle Dick,” Chancey’s top two agents, want only to spend time bickering over personal ethics (which they both lack: while interviewing a quadriplegic applicant, Fuller feels a sexual history is in order). Though garnished with hilarious, farcical episodes, the first section sobers itself nicely with Chancey’s guilt: perverse dreams of sex and violence and an unpaid printer threaten to reveal his adulterous ways. The second section, however, opts for a realistic and less inspired denouement. Chancey and Jill are in New York, Fuller has landed the London office, and Brittle holds down the fort Down Under. Five years after their breakup, Elan returns to Chancey, this time pregnant and accompanied by an elderly, closet-bisexual husband. The affair reignites but doesn’t last. Chancey discovers that Elan aborted the baby he never knew about. Jill kicks him out of their house. His poems get unimaginably worse. Fuller and Brittle conspire to form their own agency and pilfer much of Haste & Co.’s clientele. There’ll be a romanticized suicide, another street prophet insinuating Chancey is the devil himself, plus a brutal ass-kicking, before Chancey is no longer on top.

Philosophically savvy, entertaining, and whimsical in large part, with only a semi-rewarding latter half.

Pub Date: July 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56649-264-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

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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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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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