The rarest kind of literary debut—unpredictable and moving.

Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, McFawn’s debut employs different narrative voices to create something singular.

The boldness of McFawn’s premises jumps out at the reader. In one story, a babysitter uses a precocious 9-year-old to solve her financial and familial woes. In another, a journalist interviews a biologist about his new art movement, “Microaestheticism,” in which cellular material becomes abstract art when placed under a microscope. In two different tales, the problems of dealing with a dying or dead horse are made vivid. McFawn approaches each story differently, not as an author imposing a single voice on disparate narratives but as an artist listening to her characters and finding the particular voice each one requires. Her final piece, “The Chautauqua Sessions,” provides the most compelling evidence of her talents. Struggling musician Danny, the narrator, has sequestered himself with his longtime songwriting partner in hopes of putting together a new record. When Danny’s grown son, Dee, shows up to announce his sobriety, the father is skeptical; this isn’t the first time he’s heard such an announcement, and he uses his disbelief as a way of shielding himself from disappointment, even as Dee’s story of recovery moves everyone else who hears it. McFawn’s empathy is astounding, and the reader understands the ways in which Dee has wounded his father, even as the father's attempts to reveal his son as a liar become unhinged and reprehensible. “I used to think of emergencies as these character-galvanizing events,” Danny says toward the end, “these moments when life does a casting call and shows a person for who they truly are.” But McFawn is too smart a writer to fall back upon such easy answers.

The rarest kind of literary debut—unpredictable and moving.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8203-4687-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014



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




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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