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Readers willing to give themselves over to some mystery will be rewarded.

These stories from a Canadian writer feature characters at odds with their surroundings—and each other.

In her debut collection, Cooper proves that she can do just about anything. She's as comfortable telling a story from the perspective of a hip young record-label employee—which she actually is, in her day job—whose hand is blown off by a mail bomb (“Ryan & Irene, Irene & Ryan”) as she is telling the story of a mounted police officer who lives on the edge of loss and violence (“The Emperor”). Her settings are equally wide-ranging. A Vietnam War veteran lives out his retirement in the same country he once fought against in “Spiderhole.” In "Pre-Occupants," husband-and-wife scientists arrive on Mars and must adjust to their new environment—and their new neighbors. This isn’t the only story with sci-fi leanings. Cooper moves as fluidly through genre as she does through character and setting, recounting the tale of a nuclear reactor attempting to replace the sun in “Record of Working” and a woman who built a time machine when she was a child in “Thanatos.” What unites these eclectic stories is Cooper’s style—sharp-edged and oblique, these are not narratives that move in usual ways. Like a poet, Cooper is relentlessly original in every sentence: a drunk’s hand “is waving tentacular over his private cemetery of beer bottles”; mountains are “imbricate rows of corroded teeth.” The logic of the stories seems poetic, too; what would be traditional narrative context is often jettisoned in favor of a resonant image or associational logic. Occasionally, plots and subplots have obscure relationships to each other. In short, these are not stories whose meanings unfold cleanly.

Readers willing to give themselves over to some mystery will be rewarded.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77196-217-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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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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