An entertaining and occasionally dazzling first collection from Kincaid, the Florida-born author of the novel Crossing Blood (1992). With a single exception, these eight stories focus on girls or women who can't make sense out of their relationships with men or with their own addled and demanding emotions. And even that exception, ``Why Richard Can't,'' looks sympathetically at a middle-aged English professor's unwillingness to change or to leave the wife he's comfortable with for the woman student whose mind and body alike excite his interest. Too many of Kincaid's characters, in fact, talk away at us from conditions of frustrating stasis: the girl who can't make her inattentive, straying father notice her (in ``Pretty Please''), or the twice-married woman who knows she'll fail again if she takes the lover she's considering (in the smartly titled ``Total Recoil''). The good news is that Kincaid's women are expert nonstop talkers, vernacular virtuosi who can make you howl with a deftly placed one-liner (``I don't have anything against boys from reform school''), or sit bolt upright upon hearing a forthright woman's description of the guilt felt by an unfaithful husband (``like his penis was the arrow on a compass and he suddenly remembered it was always supposed to be pointing north''). And two of the stories are flat-out wonderful. ``Just Because They've Got Papers Doesn't Mean They Aren't Still Dogs'' traces with wry compassion the education in female solidarity and self- knowledge that expands the horizons and strengthens the character of a childless small-town football coach's wife. And the moving title piece portrays, without a shred of sentimentality, the sexual and intellectual awakening of a young wife and mother who learns she's dying of cancer, and scorns to go gently into anybody's good night. Good, gritty work from a vigorous talent. Kincaid may well blossom into one of the better storytellers around.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 1997

ISBN: 1-56512-177-5

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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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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