A collection of very short stories by Australian author Brooks (Mary Lives—A Story of Anorexia Nervosa & Bipolar Disorder, 2014).
This assortment of 21 short stories—almost vignettes, ranging in length from two to five pages—covers a wide range of topics, but all share Australian settings. Many focus on characters on the brink of a change, such as marriage, death or some other life-altering transition. Although not all the stories have unhappy endings, most do; even the happier tales have a rather melancholy tone, and readers may be surprised when tragedy doesn’t befall a protagonist. In two stories, “Little Cottage in the Wood” and “Going Home,” Brooks creates such evocative, frightening settings, such as a protagonist’s ruined, ghostly hometown, that it seems she may have missed her true calling as a horror author; the former does have horrific elements, but the second story progresses harmlessly. The few romances, including “The Wedding” and “Homeward Bound,” seem too pat, almost trite, with no real conflict. In contrast, the aptly named “Malevolence,” effectively tells the story of a romance gone horribly wrong, and “Full” tells a story of a woman in her 60s who has struggled with bipolar disorder. Many stories, however, are marred by abrupt, unconvincing resolutions, and often include irrelevant details that seem like red herrings; readers may stash these facts away for future reference, only to discover their ultimate insignificance. In “Training Camp,” for example, when characters list their food insensitivities, readers will likely brace for a tragic mishap, but it never comes. On an individual basis, the stories lack profound significance, but taken as a whole, they acquire a haunting quality. Overall, they may inspire readers to evaluate the qualities of their own interpersonal relationships.
Unusual short stories, notable for their more disturbing aspects.

Pub Date: June 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499006735

Page Count: 70

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2014

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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