Fifteen short stories follow a German immigrant mother and her two children over the span of 50 years.

Heike, a German woman who survived World War II by fleeing her home as a 5-year-old and immigrated to the United States as a young woman, struggles to connect with her lovers and her children. She marries Ray, a womanizer, with whom she has a son, Stewart. After the divorce, Heike and Stewart move to California, where she marries several more times. Stewart becomes a professor and moves to Boston, in no small part to avoid his mother, and also struggles first with his sexuality and then with maintaining a relationship. Heike also adopts a Russian orphan, Galina, and struggles to connect with her. This collection masterfully details moments in which these characters work to understand each other and the heartbreak when their efforts too often fall short. The stories are arranged in nonsequential order, which allows a slow unfolding of insights about each character’s formative moments and their motivations. Narrators shift, as stories are told in the first person by both Heike and Stewart (as well as in the form of letters) and in the third person but focused on Galina, Ray, and others. This fluidity of movement underscores how different two people’s experience of the same event can be and creates characters of deeply affecting complexity. Lansburgh’s portraits of Heike and Stewart are unflinching in examining their neuroses, guilt trips, and emotional withholdings: Heike seeks devotion and understanding but is self-consumed without an understanding of boundaries, while Stewart longs for stability and connection but frequently retreats into himself and avoids all interactions. Not for the faint of heart, this collection is relentless and intense, but Lansburgh’s prose offers stunning moments of tenderness amid its stark depictions of loneliness.

Arresting and pointed.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60938-527-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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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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