These 17 tales explore personal and familial relationships with both pathos and humor—and all are well worth reading.


Masterful stories by a writer of great lyrical gifts.

Upton focuses on personal relationships, especially the immediacy and estrangement that emerge from the intensity of family life. The first story, “The Ideal Reader,” blends fact and fantasy as the narrator presents herself as the biographer of Malcolm Alfred Kulkins, a fictional literary lion and supposed friend of Truman Capote and other glitterati. Mysteriously, Kulkins had published almost nothing during the last 17 years of his life, a period dating from the suicide of Seyla Treat, one of his former loverswith whom he had a daughter, Flame. The biographer ultimately learns that talent is passed across generations when she intuits that some priceless material supposedly left by Kulkins might have been forged by Flame instead. “The Tao of Humiliation” (which one character within the story mishears as the “cow” of humiliation) introduces us to Barry, Everett and Lucas, three men on a retreat in the woods who are forced to confront some unsavory moments of their pasts—and in their farcical misadventures, they don’t seem to have learned from their mistakes. One of the best stories is the wryly comic “You Know You’ve Made It When They Hate You.” Here, a community-theater drama critic continually savages the performances of Molly Crane, a hapless local actress, but by the end of the story, they literally find themselves in hot water when they share a hot tub, and she realizes that she’s “as miserable at being a wife as she was at being an actress.” Upton specializes in ending her stories with epiphanies that can be searing in their poignancy.

These 17 tales explore personal and familial relationships with both pathos and humor—and all are well worth reading.

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-938160-32-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: BOA Editions

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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


Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet