Barton is generous and sympathetic toward his characters, no matter how much of a handful they are. A pleasing collection,...

PASTURE ART

Literate, deftly constructed stories of backwoods Alabama.

It wouldn’t be Southern fiction without a nod to Faulkner, and Barton gets a hint in early: He sets a hayrick on fire, synecdoche for a barn, and lets the smoke linger in the swampy air. Then there’s the land, always a central character in southerly writing: pastures, dark soil, brooding forest, river—the Tennahpush, in this case, as real and as not-real as Yoknapatawpha County. But Barton’s quiet homage and adherence to convention are just that; he’s an original. The opening story finds a folk artist on the point of giving it all up even as the young woman who helps out around the place looks hard at a dreary future. “You haven’t made anything new in a good while, Mr. Hutchins,” she says, yearning for something different from insulin shots, pill bottles and shot glasses. The art that she likes, she declares, involves things that will take a person away from all this; in a nice bit of symmetry, the closing words of the collection also point to the desire to leave a place that holds people fast. Barton’s best moments join human generations to that land in different times: Here a slave, hauntingly speaking of plantation violence, suddenly sees the possibility of an escape seemingly not available to most mortals, and there a modern countryman grapples not just with “crackheads and meth freaks” and other denizens of the bottomlands, but also the possibility of flying saucers. Barton is not a funny writer as such, but there is some sly humor at play, too, as when that flying saucer fellow allows that his daughter might just be a lesbian. “Lois says I make it sound like Margaret’s a monster when I say that. Like I might as well go around telling people that she turned into a werewolf, when I’m really the one who turned into a monster, according to Lois.”

Barton is generous and sympathetic toward his characters, no matter how much of a handful they are. A pleasing collection, humane and well-written.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938235-09-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

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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