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LaSalle’s prose is lyrical, at times rhapsodic, and his characters memorable.

Twelve stories in a range of styles, each haunting and evocative.

In the title story, LaSalle creates a menacing atmosphere involving a sleeping mask, “black velvet on the inside...magenta satin, shimmery, on the outside.” A man offers it to his lover, who is never named and who never speaks. As he talks to her smoothly and incessantly, their relationship remains dark, mysterious, and disturbing. “What Can’t Not Happen” at first seems a straightforward narrative of a group of college students visiting art museums in Paris. They go to the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, but something’s weirdly out of kilter, for they’re visiting late at night...and it turns out they’re all dead. Two of LaSalle’s experimental stories go in wildly different directions: “Found Fragment from the Report on the Cadaver Dogs of Northern Maine, 1962” consists of a single sentence in turbulent stream-of-consciousness, while “E.A.P.: A Note” reads like a scholarly article—complete with footnotes—on several telling dreams of Edgar Allan Poe. In addition to these experiments in fiction, LaSalle handles “realistic” stories particularly well, though he rarely strays far from a dreamlike atmosphere. Perhaps the best piece in the collection is the final one, “A Late Afternoon Swim,” in which the narrator reminisces about a time when he was 11 or 12 and was encouraged by his mother to go swimming at a beach club in Rhode Island, an act about which he feels apprehensive. The narrator uses a French reference book his mother was reading at the time as a catalyst to move back and forth between memory and reality, chagrin and resentment, past and present.

LaSalle’s prose is lyrical, at times rhapsodic, and his characters memorable.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942658-18-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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