A superb literary gallery of men who can’t understand why life has given them what they want.

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White Man's Problems

Life undermines the pursuit of success and status in these rich, bewildering stories.

True to the title, the heroes of Morris’ first volume of fiction try to figure out the conundrums of love, career and family at every stage of the white male life cycle: A wiseass teenager stages a gross prank to catch the eye of a pretty cheerleader; a newly minted lawyer discovers that laziness and disaffection are no bar to advancement at his firm; an old man tries to forge a new connection to his dementia-stricken wife with the help of a pint-sized pianist. Most of the protagonists are professionals living in New York or LA who have their comfortable-to-affluent middle-aged lives shaken up by subtle instabilities. A rich producer shares a secret tragedy with a Mexican repairman; an investment banker is baffled by the technological universe he is supposed to have mastered; a funeral takes an Ivy League grad back to his working-class Irish Catholic roots; a hack attorney relaxes by posing as a crazy homeless man; and in the bleakly comic title story, a man reluctantly chaperoning his son’s fifth-grade class on a Virginia field trip has his own callowness contrasted with the august figures of American history. Morris, an entertainment lawyer, producer and journalist, knows his characters and their worlds like the back of his hand. He endows them with both a sharply etched particularity and an iconic heft: “Jim Mulligan stood in boxers and a T-shirt in the refrigerator light, beer bottle in hand, in the same spot as countless American men before and since, at once living the whiteness and watching it, a picture within a picture, hoping for a miracle snack.” His wonderfully evocative prose finds a world in tiny details of gesture and setting, in the casually arrogant stirring of coffee or the drab décor of a hotel room “conceived in mediocrity.” The result is a cleareyed, finely wrought and mordantly funny take on a modern predicament by a new writer with loads of talent.

A superb literary gallery of men who can’t understand why life has given them what they want.

Pub Date: June 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4929-2380-0

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Sweet Devil Press

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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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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