Poignant, exquisite, and endlessly witty.

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Upton’s (The Tao of Humiliation, 2014, etc.) latest collection comprises stories inhabited by characters entangled in either classic literature or their own convoluted tales.

In “A Shadow,” a maid discovers a piece of metal in J.M. Barrie’s sitting room on the morning of the author’s death. The item eventually finds its way to a boy, who’s haunted by an unrelenting shadow in his dreams, demanding he cut off a pirate’s hands. Well-known literary works play a significant role here, and Upton rarely disguises the source of inspiration. In “The Odyssey,” for example, 11-year-old, home-schooled Tahreen stumbles upon a man’s still-breathing body on the beach, like Nausicaä in Homer’s poem. Such references aren’t just dropped and forgotten. Tahreen, years later, judges her online-set dates based on each man’s response to her oft-told man-on-the-beach account. Upton sometimes makes broader bookish connections. The narrator of “Night Walkers,” for example—developing a distaste for reading after her husband leaves her for a writer/librarian—joins a book club since most members don’t actually discuss the books. Hints of fairy tales help shape the characters: the sudden appearance of apples makes an apparently meek elderly woman in “Ambrosia” seem sinister; in “Visitation,” Tiffany’s mother, wanting a bouquet for her daughter, may follow a flower-destroying groundhog down a hole. “Hello! I Am Saying Hello! Because That Is What I Do When I Say Hello!” is a standout, and not just for its title. In it, Natalie, who famously ruins things, like her cousin’s restaurant, questions why her friend Anita would ever ask her to be maid of honor. Upton, a published poet, infuses her narrative with lyrical details. A cynical Natalie believes her friend “had undone her marriage deliberately but carefully, the way a good tailor might rip out a seam without harming delicate fabric.”

Poignant, exquisite, and endlessly witty.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8071-6812-7

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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