The most agreeable pieces in Nevai's second collection (Star Game, 1987) suggests that social workers rush in where angels fear to tread, which is a welcome view in fiction largely concerned with family dysfunction, alcoholism, divorce, and madness—in short, with families who desperately need help. These 12 stories, almost all previously published in literary magazines, often rely on a sly point of view. When the liberal parents in ``Monsieur Alle,'' from Manhattan's Upper West Side, are investigated by a Social Services worker, it's difficult to figure out who's hurting the most in this screwy family. Equally winning is ``Me, Gus,'' a first-person narrative of a short Italian fellow from Jersey who gets little respect from his extended family, but discovers his true calling as a graphic designer in Manhattan, where he also seduces a wealthy heiress and conquers his longtime fear of the Holland Tunnel. Families connect and disconnect throughout these stories. In ``Close,'' a social worker who counsels teenage suicide survivors panics en route to a funeral for her brother, who has died of AIDS, knowing that she'll have to deal with her unsympathetic siblings and parents. Difficult father/daughter reunions figure in ``Release,'' ``Normal,'' and ``Quinn's Wedding'': The first finds a tough-loving father picking up his truant runaway daughter from a mental hospital; the second reunites a runaway junkie daughter with her still hypercritical father—even though she's now clean, married, and a mother; and the last involves a moment of triumph for a middle-aged recovering druggie/alcoholic, who finally returns home to confront her pedophile father. Other tales feature a subway drunk, a self- mutilating girl, and a middle-manager on a fateful Colorado rafting trip. Some of the shorter pieces beg for development, and settle too readily for cynicism and glibness, but the strongest stories here make it clear that Nevai is a real talent with a ready wit and a steady gaze.

Pub Date: April 20, 1997

ISBN: 1-56512-158-9

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997



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




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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