Tackles a variety of subjects with curiosity and grace; a bit too short, though.



Australian author Brooks (Mary Lives, 2014) explores the triumphs and sorrows of daily life in this collection of stories.

This collection examines the vagaries of the human condition through a variety of narrative voices. “Togetherness” explores the unrequited love of a college student named Lisa for her closest childhood friend, Gary. A broken arm leads a woman named Jeannie on a voyage of self-discovery in “The Gym.” The strongest stories deal with more challenging subject matter. In the gripping and compelling “Catharsis,” a young woman named Christine attempts to cope with a rape as its aftermath leads her down a dark path of self-destruction. In “Heartbreak,” Brooks creates a poignant portrait of loving parents trying to save their son from his addictions while they raise his children. Brooks adeptly balances the dark tone of these stories with several lighthearted ones that showcase her talent for observing the minutiae of daily life, its joys and troubles. A Cub Scout fundraiser is the focus of breezy “Sausages Sizzling,” while in “United Nations,” a disparate group of tourists on a hiking tour share a common love of travel and adventure. Brooks’ conversational style may give readers the sense of eavesdropping; also her keen sense of whimsy is on full display in the comical “Deserted Island,” which relates the tale of Ian, a fisherman who dozes off while on a trip and wakes up on a deserted island miles from his destination. In this story, nature becomes a second character and Brooks lovingly describes the beauty of Ian’s surroundings: “Looking inland he saw a forest of tall grasses, over two metres tall, with frayed, fluttery fern-like tops.” The collection’s chief weakness is its brevity. Because these stories offer but brief glimpses into the characters’ lives, Brooks can only skim the surface of deeper insight into her characters and their motivations.

Tackles a variety of subjects with curiosity and grace; a bit too short, though.

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499006841

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 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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