A strong debut from a writer who probes the inner lives of her female subjects with both purpose and humor.


Young women eye their futures with the practiced skepticism of people who have already seen far too much.

The stories in Adelmann’s debut collection feature women and girls adrift in the world. From broken homes, broken relationships, broken senses of their own identities, the narrators of these stories explore worlds marked by a bleak sense of anonymity—in these largely urban tales, all faces seem to be faces in the crowd. Many of the stories capture their narrators' inner monologues in a way that is both believable and illuminating. In “Pets Are for Rich Kids,” Ashley’s friendship with the gratingly precocious Willa is marked by the inequalities of their social situations. Willa is the pampered daughter of wealthy parents who buy her pets to teach her lessons about responsibility and, inevitably, power while Ashley is the child of a struggling newly single mother who can't understand why no one else sees “how dumb it [is] that the things you [are] supposed to love are always running away or dying.” Willa tries to teach Ashley not to be so “callous” by giving her the unasked-for responsibility of a guinea pig, and the resulting conflict between the girls focuses on the dynamics of real rage and performative kindness. Similarly, “Middlemen,” another standout piece, explores the narrator’s relationship with her roommate, Grace, the pampered daughter of emotionally abusive parents, who instigates a sexual aspect to their friendship—but only when someone else is looking. Many of the narrators are in the middle of what seem likely to be their lives’ defining crises. There is a young wife who has run over her abusive husband’s dog (“The Replacements”); a young wife whose husband is leaving to go to war (“How To Wait”); and a lonely 20-something, set adrift by trauma, looking for solace in too much alcohol and too many women (“Human Bonding”). The similarity among the subjects can sometimes overwhelm the experience of reading the individual pieces. But when read independently, the stories linger, clearly illuminated by their artistry, honesty, and pervasive courage.

A strong debut from a writer who probes the inner lives of her female subjects with both purpose and humor.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-45081-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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