ONLY HUMAN

AND OTHER STORIES

A second collection of stories, mostly set among the Catholics of Northern Ireland, by the Irish author of 1996’s Booing the Bishop (not reviewed). If things move along at the present rate, and Belfast succeeds in mutating from a political to a literary hot spot, Collins will probably be regarded as a single eminence in a worthy company. Which would be something of a shame, since he is worth attending to on his own. The characters in Collins’s stories are all recognizably Irish in both their origins and concerns, but—lacking the sentimental resentments of the brothers McCourt—they—ll appeal to more subtle tastes. Sickness and injury are the dominant motifs: “The Lump” tells of an infected wound, while the aptly entitled “Shame and Pain” describes a middle-aged husband’s humiliating efforts to keep his hemorrhoid surgeries secret from his wife, only to be presented by her with a far more momentous surprise in the end. The rapid collapse of domestic life becomes a metaphor of modern social decay in “Breaking the News,” about an elderly widower’s physical and emotional decline. “Unwinding in France” is a seriocomic account of a Winnebago holiday that nearly breaks up a family. The best piece, however, is the title story, about a divorced husband’s attempt to keep his daughter’s affection in the face of his ex-wife’s hatred—and the crisis that ensues when he is frustrated. Understated and strikingly narrated (“Not even a woman could get inside your body the way booze could”), it sets the pattern of quiet melancholy that the other tales elaborate on. Refreshing and unique: Collins provides a new take on familiar territory.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1998

ISBN: 0-85640-622-8

Page Count: 140

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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