Still, as the Shamus-winning “Dead Drunk” (who’s pouring water over homeless men who end up literally frozen?) shows, when...



In her brief introduction to this nine-story retrospective, the chronicler of upscale attorney Laura Di Palma and struggling-scale attorney Willa Janssen explains that several of them began life as full-fledged novels, and it shows. “Dream Lawyer,” which pits Willa against a just-offstage Laura; “Easy Go,” about a disbarred lawyer struggling to earn a second chance at respectability; and, best of all, the title story, which drags a divorcée into defending her husband for killing his second wife—each of them has enough surprises, and enough warmth, to sustain half a dozen lesser efforts. And Matera, editor most recently of Irreconcilable Differences (1999), obligingly supplies several lesser efforts so you can compare. “Performance Crime” is a silly tale of cereal murder and other pun-addled felonies that shows its gifted author marking time, and “Do Not Resuscitate” is the sort of ironic étude you’ve read a hundred times before. “The River Mouth” (a troubled romantic pair from the city meets a Yurok woman who tells them more about themselves than they wanted to know) and “If It Can’t Be True” (a terrorist’s demand for his sister to be released from a mental institution goes fatally awry) are both more successful as atmospheric sketches than achieved stories. Of all the non-attorney exhibits in evidence here, only “Destroying Angel” (a fungus expert meets her match in some lethal mushrooms) stacks up to the stories about the criminal bar.

Still, as the Shamus-winning “Dead Drunk” (who’s pouring water over homeless men who end up literally frozen?) shows, when you do want a lawyer, you can’t do better than Matera.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7862-2537-8

Page Count: 173

Publisher: Five Star/Gale Cengage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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