Varied and risky—with the fingerprint of Oates’s fetish for the macabre.


Ultraprolific Oates (I’ll Take You There, p. 985) perhaps doesn’t have enough to do; this time out, she leans toward the experimental with 15 tales selected from writing programs’ brightest and best.

Some of the edges are rough, but the breadth of approach is what’s most encouraging here. The protagonist of Esi Edugyan’s “The Woman Who Tasted of Rose Oil” is a ghost; Eastern philosophy and medicine trigger healing in Westerners in Susan Austin’s “At Celilo”; the reinvention of war stories in the wake of computer games and the Gulf War continues in Otis Haschmeyer’s choppy but nonetheless pleasing “The Storekeeper”; the best first sentence prize goes to Dylan Tai Nguyen for “At first glance she mistook his handwriting for barbed wire,” in “Peace,” a tale about a Communist but peaceful Vietnam. Meanwhile, Barry Matthews’s “Everything Must Go” seems pulled straight from the headlines when improperly disposed-of corpses are discovered at an undertaker’s a few hundred yards from the protagonist’s home; violence intrudes upon, and shapes, theories on love and family in Jenn McKee’s “Under the Influence”; Hal Horton’s “The Year Draws in the Day” is a survey of love and death via the gay culture; Brad Vice’s “Chickensnake” is a version of an oft-told tale in which a snake crawls up a 20-foot post to feed on birds, only to be shot down by the protagonist’s father (he was “only a snake doing what snakes do,” the boy laments); the most conventional story is probably Cheryl Strayed’s “Good,” in which two people helping to care for loved ones at a home for the infirm turn guiltily to one another for needed affection. These tales may be a better mirror of Oates’s own huge body of work than a survey of the best of anything. As Oates herself says, “The emerging writers . . . are a testament to the ongoing vitality, imagination, and richness of that culture.”

Varied and risky—with the fingerprint of Oates’s fetish for the macabre.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-15-600716-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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This large, stately, and intensely powerful new novel by the author of Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show is constructed around a cattle drive—an epic journey from dry, hard-drinking south Texas, where a band of retired Texas Rangers has been living idly, to the last outpost and the last days of the old, unsettled West in rough Montana. The time is the 1880s. The characters are larger than life and shimmer: Captain Woodrow Call, who leads the drive, is the American type of an unrelentingly righteous man whose values are puritanical and pioneering and whose orders, which his men inevitably follow, lead, toward the end, to their deaths; talkative Gus McCrae, Call's best friend, learned, lenient, almost magically skilled in a crisis, who is one of those who dies; Newt, the unacknowledged 17-year-old son of Captain Call's one period of self-indulgence and the inheritor of what will become a new and kinder West; and whores, drivers, misplaced sheriffs and scattered settlers, all of whom are drawn sharply, engagingly, movingly. As the rag-tag band drives the cattle 3,000 miles northward, only Call fails to learn that his quest to conquer more new territories in the West is futile—it's a quest that perishes as men are killed by natural menaces that soon will be tamed and by half-starved renegades who soon will die at the hands of those less heroic than themselves. McMurtry shows that it is a quest misplaced in history, in a landscape that is bare of buffalo but still mythic; and it is only one of McMurtry's major accomplishments that he does it without forfeiting a grain of the characters' sympathetic power or of the book's considerable suspense. This is a masterly novel. It will appeal to all lovers of fiction of the first order.

Pub Date: June 1, 1985

ISBN: 068487122X

Page Count: 872

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1985

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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