Hecht shows herself to be a master of both shrewd observation and wistful longing.

HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU

STORIES

Witty and understated stories chronicling intimate realities of everyday life.

Hecht (The Unprofessionals, 2003) uses an unnamed first-person narrator to give continuity to the stories, most of which are set in Nantucket. Although there are occasional allusions to a husband and siblings, the narrator concentrates almost exclusively on the seemingly inconsequential but sprightly details of her personal life. We know, for example, that she is a fierce vegan who disapproves of the sous chef of the local café throwing, as she describes it, animal parts onto a grill. In addition, she has a swooning admiration for Paul McCartney and admits she’s looking for someone just like him—“a vegetarian, musician, animalrights [sic] activist, and garden lover who [lives] in the countryside of [a] civilized country.” It’s clear that she does not think of America as all that civilized, as allusions to the “Alfred E. Neuman” president and his penchant for saying “nucular” make clear. (“Will this never be corrected or brought to the attention of the world?” she wonders.) It’s hard to pick a favorite here, for all the stories are both stark and guileful. In “Being and Nothingness” we meet her psychiatrist, never much help because “he remained a shy, stammering, befuddled person”—though she also cunningly speculates that this might be “just an act he used to control people and get whatever he wanted.” The titular story is a tour de force in which a charming but inept interviewer has extended phone conversations with the narrator, revealing far more about himself than he should.

Hecht shows herself to be a master of both shrewd observation and wistful longing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6425-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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THE ELEPHANT VANISHES

STORIES

A seamless melding of Japanese cultural nuances with universal themes—in a virtuoso story collection from rising literary star Murakami (A Wild Sheep Chase, 1989; Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, 1991). These 15 pieces, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker and Playboy, are narrated by different characters who nonetheless share similar sensibilities and attitudes. At home within their own urban culture, they happily pick and choose from Western cultural artifacts as varied as Mozart tapes, spaghetti dinners, and Ralph Lauren polo shirts in a terrain not so much surreal as subtly out of kilter, and haunted by the big questions of death, courage, and love. In the title story, the narrator—who does p.r. for a kitchen-appliance maker and who feels that "things around [him] have lost their balance," that a "pragmatic approach" helps avoid complicated problems—is troubled by the inexplicable disappearance of a local elephant and his keeper. In another notable story, "Sleep," a young mother, unable to sleep, begins to question not only her marriage and her affection for her child, but death itself, which may mean "being eternally awake and staring into darkness." Stories like "TV People," in which a man's apartment is taken over by TV characters who "look as if they were reduced by photocopy, everything mechanically calibrated"; "Barn Burning," in which a man confesses to burning barns (it helps him keep his sense of moral balance); and "The Second Bakery Attack," in which a young married couple rob a McDonald's of 30 Big Macs in order to exorcise the sense of a "weird presence" in their lives—all exemplify Murakami's sense of the fragility of the ordinary world. Remarkable evocations of a postmodernist world, superficially indifferent but transformed by Murakami's talent into a place suffused with a yearning for meaning.

Pub Date: March 31, 1993

ISBN: 0679750533

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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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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