When Poirier drops the cleverness, he can delve powerfully into characters dangerously out of touch with themselves.



On the heels of his first novel (Goats, 2001), Poirier returns with a second story collection (after Naked Pueblo, 1999) centered, as the title implies, on offbeat entrepreneurs and their descendants.

In “Buttons,” the docent at a small-town museum depicting the history of the Badde family’s business tells visitors about Zilo Badde IV, a nerdy geek with a large sexual appetite who competes with twin Tommy for their grandfather’s affection. The brothers create a brief supermarket sensation with F’neggs, prepackaged eggs, but ultimately Zilo IV fails in both business and love. “A Note on the Type” also features an unpleasant young protagonist: Simon lives with his socially ostracized maiden aunt to save money, but it becomes apparent that he is as much of a misfit as she is. In “Gators,” narrator Vaughn’s obsession with Durina, a teenaged girl he tutors, lies just on the safe side of erotic. Durina’s mother sells alligator skins to shoe designers, and Durina plans to go to New York to try her hand at designing. Vaughn dreams of helping her and is crushed when she doesn’t need him. “Pageantry” adds little to our understanding of the beauty contest industry. A young girl pretends she participates only to please her disfigured mother, but we know better. Finest of the five stories in this thin volume is the beautiful, deeply sad “Worms.” Here, Poirier allows its central character to show humanity within his eccentricity. Raised by an aunt after a freak car accident killed his immediate family, Billy Hair is a simple country boy. He meets his future wife Dora, a reporter, when she interviews him about his worm farm, produced by “a wonderful accident” when he flooded the manure pasture. Billy and Dora, a Vassar-educated WASP, make a wildly improbable yet charming couple. But after their child accidentally drowns, their marriage collapses.

When Poirier drops the cleverness, he can delve powerfully into characters dangerously out of touch with themselves.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7868-6827-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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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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