Gutsy stories from one of our most fearless writers.

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Characters from the fringes of society grapple with desire and fury in this collection of short stories.

Early on in “The Pull,” a story about a young swimmer from a war-torn country, the narrator describes her childhood as the “kind of story that makes your chest grow tight as you listen.” The stories here are exactly that kind: insistently visceral, pushing into, and past, the reader’s comfort zone. Many of the stories center erotic experiences. In “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Bosch works in a modern-day fish processing plant, and he finds boundless pleasure in the arms of a young male co-worker. In “Cusp,” a teenage girl smuggles drugs into a local prison and shares her body with the prisoners as a way of being closer to her incarcerated brother. But if these stories teach us about lust, they also flip to the other side of that same coin: These are narratives full of deep rage. Some of this rage takes place inside of intimate relationships, as in “A Woman Signifying,” in which the protagonist deliberately burns her face against a radiator to create a “symbol” of her anger at her lover. Sometimes this rage is social, as in “Drive Through,” about an encounter with a panhandler at a McDonald’s drive-thru. Yuknavitch (The Misfit’s Manifesto, 2017, etc.) keeps readers’ heads pressed against what is hardest to see, and this doesn’t always land. Some of the rage can feel self-righteous; some of the desire pushes deep into taboo and veers toward unpalatable. But where there are risks, there are rewards, and these howls from the throats of women, queer characters, the impoverished, and the addicted remind us of the beauty and pain of our shared humanity.

Gutsy stories from one of our most fearless writers.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53487-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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