Winner of Bread Loaf's 1996 Bakeless Prize, Hester's debut collection of eight stories (three previously published) explores the marginal life in Georgia and Texas, where people struggle mightily just to keep from going under. For instance, there's Leah in ``Deadman's Float,'' a young girl unhappily adrift at a Girl Scout summer camp. Leah isn't one of the best or brightest girls, but managing to survive the swimming test and peer put-downs is nothing compared to what she has to face at home, where older brother J.D. takes his rage at his father's departure out on their mother—until the police intervene. ``Alarm'' features a dying neighborhood in Austin, Texas, where ex- junkie Tyler and his girl Holly settle in search of peace only to learn that their neighbor across the street is a dealer. For a living Tyler installs security systems in the homes of Austin's elite, but he can do little against the Peeping Toms and burglars who terrorize his own neighborhood; when he loses the money from a paycheck he's just cashed, he can't even do anything to keep Holly from thinking he's back on smack. In a sort of sequel (``Grand Portage''), junkie Donny loses his girlfriend Delilah, who runs off with his best friend, Errol. But Errol has his own monkey on his back: He's on a hopeful mission from Texas to the Canadian border to see his father, who left him more than 20 years before—a mission doomed to fail. Finally, the title piece concerns another broken family, this one affluent, consisting of a brother who survives delinquency to become a TV weatherman, a sister who's mired in the same self-destructive lifestyle he once knew, and their defeated, alcoholic mother. Powerful, frank studies of despair in the midst of decay: crystallizations of what's left when the American dream dries up and blows away.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1997

ISBN: 0-87451-823-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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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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