Brimming with characters and moments that give the reader a reason to ponder, lying behind every laugh and eccentricity.

Tales of the Infinitely Possible

A debut collection of 12 stories centers on humans, animals, and talking appliances as they endure loss and betrayal, all with a firm grasp on hope.

The opening tale, “The Sea Otter and the Terraformed Planet,” sets the book’s tone, a zaniness ultimately offset by a sobering message. The titular mammal, who regularly converses with the planet, is the world’s only conscious being. Unhappy with basic amenities the planet provides, the Sea Otter demands more, including a “smart phone” (he’s not sure what it is, just that he wants one). But when he has to share the planet with other sea otters, he’ll grow to resent them for what they have. Later tales follow suit. “A Proposed Game of House Risk” features a hilarious update on the strategy board game Risk, but one that turns frighteningly serious once a sledgehammer enters the picture. Similarly, a 9-year-old girl in “To the Moon, Iris” searches for seven butterflies to help her escape to the moon; it’s an endearing take on a child’s imagination (though it could be real), but Iris is fleeing her physically and verbally abusive father. So many of the book’s characters are tortured in some way, like Tom of “Into Baratova” losing his father, or Sam in “The Silent Drive,” whose frequent hospital visits courtesy of Danny aren’t even the reason he hates his older brother—there’s something much worse. Optimism, however, often finds a place within Hatch’s stories. In “The Best Visitor,” Bradley’s best friends are his kitchen appliances, but the toaster may convince him to interact with another human. And Francis Price, in “My Father, the Hero,” tells of dad Arthur, who, living in his car, became truly heroic when he one day stepped outside of his 1962 Ford Cortina to stop a “Super Villain.” Every story, to a certain extent, is driven by what seems otherworldly or characters’ outrageous behavior, like an investment firm CEO who literally won’t stop swimming (“The Constant Swimmer”). But as the title implies, there’s an authenticity throughout, a book that makes the extraordinary both plausible and believable.

Brimming with characters and moments that give the reader a reason to ponder, lying behind every laugh and eccentricity.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5300-5961-4

Page Count: 220

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2016

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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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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