A first collection of 12 stories, all of them subtle and all about fishing, linked also by their setting in upstate New York and their recurring characters. Slouka is also the author of a thoughtful nonfiction critique of the “digital revolution”(War of the Worlds, 1995). First is the longish “The Shape of Water,” a precise reminiscence about a wharf, a lake, particular people, and a great fish the narrator’s father caught—a lyrical memory of childhood. But the narrator, looking back from adulthood, has to admit that he may have imagined the event out of longing for just such a perfect day. After so poetic a beginning, the earthy “Genesis,” about the flamboyant Simon Colby, who created the lake, is a delight. Colby, after losing an arm in the Spanish-American War, walks home from Georgia simply to see the country. When he arrives, he marches into a dance, picks out the prettiest girl, and proposes. Then he successfully promotes the lake and prospers on the tourist trade. In the beautiful, simple “Equinox,” the death of a lineman trying to restore power is balanced by the rescue of a child who might have drowned—and yet in neither case, Slouka suggests, is fate anything but random. Finally, the narrator of —The Shape of Water— returns to the lake after an absence of many years and catches a great fish. Going off to attend a crisis, he leaves it on a trotline. When at last he returns, it’s to find that some other lake animal has devoured his catch. Thus, Slouka returns to the themes of his dreamy beginning: memory dissolves into the shape of water, life is in some way always a mystery, some part of it “forever unknown to us.” Nice. Slouka may be even too subtle, however, and he will suffer from the inevitable comparison with Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It, which is also about memory, loss, and, of course, fishing.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-40215-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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