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Every story is beautifully located in place and period, edging toward grace rather than postmodern irony, and peopled by...

Eight stories comprise Rolnick’s debut collection, winner of the University of Iowa Press’s 2011 John Simmons Short Fiction Award.

The opening section, "New Jersey," begins with two stories of loss. "Funnyboy" focuses on a father who cannot accept the death of his son, and Rolnick’s piercing phrases sharpen the sense of unrelenting bereavement. "Innkeeping" follows young Will as he and his mother attempt to keep the family's seaside inn open. A growing realization descends, and Will learns he cannot replace his father, killed at sea, cannot hold the hard world at bay, nor can he choose how his mother will live. In "The Herald," "something propulsive and intense and irresistible" drives a veteran reporter past common sense only to be rescued by a curmudgeonly editor. In "Mainlanders," two teen boys immersed in their Jersey shore idyllic life meet two city girls and get a glimpse of what they cannot have but may someday find off-island. In the second section, Rolnick moves his stories to New York. "Pulp and Paper" contrasts loyalty and sacrifice against a man-made disaster. Particularly affecting is "Big River." Garnet and Finch, a year past high school, companions since childhood, lovers, find themselves expecting a baby. Garnet feels hemmed in by the inescapable demands of incipient motherhood and by the rural landscape to which Finch is tied. Also powerfully emotional is "Big Lake." Molly Cage falls through the ice and drowns, an accident that also costs her husband Jack his arm. Flip, 13 years old and entranced with Molly, is trapped between truth and fear and love and guilt. The collection ends with "The Carousel." Rubin inherited a Coney Island carousel from his father, with the words, "it can sometimes make you happy," words which both charm and become elegy.

Every story is beautifully located in place and period, edging toward grace rather than postmodern irony, and peopled by characters coping with love and loss.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60938-052-6

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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