A muddled, undercooked collection that does not live up to the promise of its conceit.


Duos of all kinds knock up against one another in this collection from Mirolla (The Giulo Metaphysics III, 2013, etc.).

Relationships are fraught, complicated creatures, whether they’re between lovers, family members, or friends. In this collection, these couplings are explored one pairing at a time: sister and sister, sister and brother, brother and brother, daughter and father, father and son, and so on. In “Sons and Mothers,” an unreliable man self-reports his own family history while a psychiatric expert analyzes testimonies from the patient’s friend and mother. Two cohabiting sisters are on a crash course over a man in “Sister and Sister.” In “Daughters and Fathers,” the daughter of a famous writer, from whom she is estranged, wastes away in an asylum. There is much to admire about a good formal constraint, a collection with a tight unifying theme, thematic subheadings, use of artifacts, and metafictional flourishes. But while this collection includes all of these elements and more, the result is less high-wire artistry and more fragmented mess. Occasionally there is a lovely detail, a paragraph of character and action, or an interesting thought, but then everything—including the relationships that should be the beating hearts of the stories—is washed away by the author’s voice. That voice dominates and consumes the narrative, flattening each story’s potential life. As a result, they all sound the same. There is quite a bit of wordplay, including an irritating tic where an idea is stated and restated (sometimes more than once) for no apparent reason, but these moments of cleverness rarely work and never seem to match the mood or characters. Some books demand more of their audience than the average text, but this book demands too much; it rejects and rebuffs the reader at every turn.

A muddled, undercooked collection that does not live up to the promise of its conceit.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59709-427-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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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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