Dark and sexually violent, Shepard's work can disturb—but her sharp prose and insights into the human psyche make it worth...


Women bear the dark consequences of infidelity, lies, and other betrayals.

Novelist Shepard (The Celestials, 2013, etc.) has turned her keen eye to short fiction centered on the underbellies of the lives and relationships of women. The opening story, “Popular Girls,” about private school students in New York, begins with an almost anthropological survey: “You know who we are. We’re Kaethe and Alina, CJ and Sydney, Stephanie. We’re Asian or Scandinavian, white or vaguely black.” But if the reader expects an overview of Manhattan mean girls, the story quickly turns even more barbed than that when the popular girls—sophomores in high school—get into a limo with some strange men and end up, via a nightclub, at a strange apartment. Though the collective narrator admits to feeling “uneasy,” the story ends, “Do with us what you dare. Do with us what you can.” The chill of this ending shadows the whole book. In “Fire Horse,” a woman courts an incestuous affair with her brother. In “Girls Only,” the memory of their failure to help a friend during a sexual assault haunts a group of bridesmaids. Although many of the stories investigate the tangled aftermath of sexual anguish—from affairs with married men to gang rape—the greatest stories in this collection, “Light as a Feather” and “A Fine Life,” both look at relationships between a daughter and a parent. These stories take Shepard’s fascination with cruelty and soften those edges. “Light as a Feather” juxtaposes a stillbirth with the narrator’s relationship with her mother, who suffers from dementia. “A Fine Line” examines a woman’s unusual career path working with chimps and her past as a defector from communist China.

Dark and sexually violent, Shepard's work can disturb—but her sharp prose and insights into the human psyche make it worth the read.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-75-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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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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