The author seldom allows a trickle of hope to lighten her characters’ anguish, but she gives them a consciousness and...



Meloy (A Family Daughter, 2006, etc.) explores loneliness in 11 stories set mostly in her native Montana.

“Travis, B.” depicts a young cowboy, working away from his family and desperately lonely, attempting to woo an adult-ed teacher. His growth in self-awareness does not mitigate the heartbreak of his failure. “Lovely Rita” is another lost young adult; after her lover dies in a power-plant accident, she raffles herself off to raise money to find the father who abandoned her years before. While Travis and Rita are cut off from family, most of Meloy’s characters are alone within their families. The adolescent protagonist of “Red from Green” loves her father but goes away to school; recognizing his inability to protect her, she chooses loneliness as a permanent state. In “Liliana,” a Los Angeles man’s supposedly dead grandmother shows up on his doorstep, alive and ready to reject him all over again. “Nine” is Valentina’s age when her mother begins an affair with an Italian professor. It soon becomes clear that the affair is doomed, but Valentina mourns the loss of the man’s ten-year-old son in her life. “Spy vs. Spy” shows a man and his brother dealing with long-simmering sibling rivalry. Despite their relative brevity, these are complex stories, often showing several characters being pulled in different directions. In what may be the volume’s masterpiece, Leo meets with “The Girlfriend” of the man who raped and murdered Leo’s daughter. In an anti-O’Henry twist, the loving father unearths a truth better left buried: that his own protectiveness may have caused his daughter’s death.

The author seldom allows a trickle of hope to lighten her characters’ anguish, but she gives them a consciousness and dignity that make their experiences deeply moving.

Pub Date: July 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59448-869-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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