These stories are particularly poignant for anyone who grew up gay in America’s desolate places, but Corcoran speaks...



In this debut book of interconnected stories, Corcoran writes fiercely about the lifelong effects of growing up in a small town on those who leave and those who stay.

He sets the scene in “Appalachian Swan Song,” describing the West Virginia hamlet where these stories are set. “We were mountain people,” Corcoran writes. “The mountains were in our voices and on our worn clothes. We were as sturdy as our old oak trees, everlasting, never changing. We were survivors and subsisters.” The core here is the title story, “The Rope Swing,” about a teenage boy frightened of his growing attraction to a male friend. The internal and external conflicts of gay men are a central theme in “Through the Still Hours,” about a man’s yearning to recapture the passions of his youth. The author turns to the lives of women in “Pauly’s Girl,” about a woman rebuilding her life after losing her platonic partner, and “Felicitations,” a story about a pregnant genetic counselor that is Carver-esque in its dry compassion. The remaining stories are mostly about the reverberations our lives have on us. “Hank the King” finds an aging raconteur struggling with the question of whether he is a good man. “Excavation” finds two teens on the verge of graduation descending into an abandoned school slated for demolition. Corcoran finishes off the collection with two deeply personal stories, “Brooklyn, 4 A.M.” and “A Touch,” which are all about the realization that even if we end up far from home, part of that place and time catches up with us. Corcoran is a remarkably empathetic writer whose subtle portraits capture undeniably tender moments in the lives of his characters.

These stories are particularly poignant for anyone who grew up gay in America’s desolate places, but Corcoran speaks eloquently to all facets of the human condition.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-943665-11-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Vandalia Press/West Virginia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet