A globe-spanning collection that offers a keyhole view of mostly doomed relationships.

LOVE TODAY

STORIES

A German author makes his U.S. debut with 27 portraits of love dying on the vine.

Biller explores the quiet tragedy of relationships by focusing on those singular moments when spaces between lovers become chasms. As is the case of a pining lover and a reluctant fiancée, in “The Mahogany Elephant,” the sense of inevitable sorrow is palpable throughout the book. In “Seven Attempts at Loving,” the love of a pair of Czech nationals, who have been trying to stay together since childhood, survives the revolution but not the passage of time. Passion remains elusive for the book’s mismatched misanthropists who squander true love. One might think the brevity of the stories would work against them, but Biller has obviously taken to heart the lesson that less can be more. The intangible brunette who calls her contemptuous boyfriend “Tom-Cat,” in “The Maserati Years,” is defined only by two voice mails in which she first claims pregnancy and subsequently dismisses him: “Hi, had a fright? Just wanted to see how cold you really are. Don’t ever call me again. Miaow.” In the three pages of “Melody,” Biller captures the vacillating rhythms and insanity of love with the story of Thomas, who mourns his dead wife, converts to Judaism, marries a doppelgänger, has a child and drives his car into the East River before settling down with Melody, the woman he should have been with in the first place. “They’re doing fine,” Biller writes, and it’s hard not to hope that it’s true.

A globe-spanning collection that offers a keyhole view of mostly doomed relationships.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-7265-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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