Despite some pronounced highs and lows, a welcome gathering that showcases an unusually energetic and entertaining new...



A vivid mix of realism and fantasy (distinguished by editor Carter as “the gritty down-to-earth . . . [and work of] a profound metaphysical and fantastical bent”), in an engaging collection of prose poems, short stories, and novel excerpts by 26 young Scottish authors.

The briefer pieces (most less than a page long) are generally least impressive, partial exceptions being Jen Hadfield’s folklore-derived vignettes and Margaret Downie’s dreamy, imaginative “The Stone” and “Death.” Excerpts from longer works include Andrew Grieg’s offbeat examination of the wary mutual attraction between a young engineer and a tempestuous Western Islander (“Ammonia in Orkney”); Suhayl Saadi’s richly atmospheric look at immigrant South Asian street gangs (“Kings of the Dark House”); and Anne Donovan’s boisterous and delightful tale of an ordinary husband and father smitten with Eastern wisdom, narrated in thick, racy Glaswegian dialect (“Buddha Da”). Nothing else in the volume equals the wry hilarity of Donovan’s spirited little masterpiece, but several of the stories per se are not to be missed. Realism is well served by Edward Clapp’s “Nineteen Things I Remember About the West End of Glasgow,” the ruminations of a student who boards with a down-at-the-heels actress; Valerie Thornton’s sympathetic portrayal of a lonely motherless girl whose “ghost pets” insulate her from boys’ indifferent cruelty (“A Bird in the Hand”); and Tom Murray’s dramatization of the mingled guilt, sorrow and denial felt by an adolescent (“The Boy”) attending the funeral of his best (female) friend. Less conventional tales include Ali Smith’s annoyingly coy explication of how fictions develop (“The Universal Story”); Michael Faber’s astute look at the generation gaps that splinter a vacationing American family (“Vanilla-Bright Like Eminem”); and, notably, Linda Henderson’s contemporary fairy tale about a shepherd cursed with three “grotesque” daughters (“The Waters of Ulhava”).

Despite some pronounced highs and lows, a welcome gathering that showcases an unusually energetic and entertaining new literary culture.

Pub Date: July 15, 2003

ISBN: 1-931236-26-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

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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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