An impressive debut, full of crisp images, sparks and heat, but also essential human dignity—all helping keep the tendency...




Twelve taut, driven stories (eight published previously), in a first collection from San Francisco writer Bjorneby, focus largely on girls and women as they experience defining moments and draw on whatever resources they can to sustain them.

The title piece pits a 40-year-old painter against despair at the loss of her entire family, including her 8-year-old son. Leaving her fate to an approaching hurricane, she waits in her beachfront house until she glimpses someone else on the beach whose despair is as great as her own. Other stories make use of the author’s Air Force upbringing. In “War Games,” a teenager and her mother live in base housing in Florida while waiting for the girl’s pilot father to finish his tour in Vietnam; the girl passes after-school hours throwing a football with a friend, her life suspended, until a civilian schoolmate begins to teach them about growing up. The girl—Max—appears again in “Christmas Bombings, 1972,” this time with her whole family in Berlin and desperate to grow up. She meets a gentle Alabama airman who protects her from the anti-American feelings rampant in the city and from herself; but he’s is shipped home before her feelings for him have a chance to mature. Other tales feature adolescent boys, like Jimmy in “The Goat,” whose desire to be one of the gang puts him squarely in the middle between the clique’s bigoted leader and a poor classmate recently arrived from a war-torn part of the world. Women in crisis predominate, however, and the stories end in San Francisco when tough, brittle Nicky (in “Mimosa”), softened by love and pregnancy and far from her days of suicidal rage, has to confront old demons after her lover is arrested in a drug bust.

An impressive debut, full of crisp images, sparks and heat, but also essential human dignity—all helping keep the tendency to finish upbeat from seeming relentless.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57071-853-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller



A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet