Still, we probably can’t have too much of Carver’s spare, precisely honed prose in print. One hopes a Collected Stories will...

CALL IF YOU NEED ME

THE UNCOLLECTED FICTION AND OTHER PROSE

A presumably final gathering of work left behind by the writer (1938–88) many considered the American Chekhov: a compassionate and artful chronicler of “ordinary” lives.

In her warmhearted foreword, Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher, describes the discovery and preparation for publication of the five stories that are the real raison d’etre of this otherwise patchy volume (most of whose other contents appeared in the miscellanies Fires, 1989, and No Heroics, Please, 1992). “Vandals” and “Call If You Need Me” employ carefully developed images of separation and conflagration to depict relationships unraveling and children afflicted by their parents’ instability (though the title story does contain the marvelous, and perhaps prophetic, image of horses appearing mysteriously in its protagonists’ front yard). “What Would You Like to See?,” a rigorously understated portrayal of a couple whose closeness is threatened by drinking, is a comparatively shapeless and repetitive version of several earlier, superior stories (surely Carver wasn’t done with it). The old magic resurfaces in “Kindling,” a subtle look at an alcoholic writer estranged from his wife (and “between lives”), who seeks stability in performing chores for the couple with whom he boards, a pair whose surface happiness seems merely a variant strain of his own disorientation. “Dreams”—the best of these five—ingeniously dramatizes the limits of our ability to enter imaginatively into others’ lives, while echoing one of Carver’s most deservedly famous stories, “A Small, Good Thing.” By comparison, the five “Early Stories” are slack and melodramatic, the flat “Fragment of a Novel” a superficial glimpse of (its self-described) “broken-down Hemingway characters.” It’s nice to have the compact literary essays “On Writing” and “Fires” available again, as well as the wonderfully moving “My Father’s Life”—but, as stated, these are available elsewhere.

Still, we probably can’t have too much of Carver’s spare, precisely honed prose in print. One hopes a Collected Stories will appear before long.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-72628-4

Page Count: 285

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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