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Carver's shrewd new publisher here repackages 30 stories—a few with new titles—from his four collections, and includes seven uncollected pieces, one of which has never seen print. This selection spans 25 years and provides the perfect opportunity to assess an acclaimed career. For the most part, Carver's seven new pieces add little to his inflated reputation. The trite imagery, the deliberately stale language, and the unintentional bathos—all the elements of Carver's common-man pose—continue to generate tales of failure and false promise, a neo-proletarian rhetoric of victimization and survival. His male narrators often wallow in self-pity, and their problems usually concern women. In "Boxes," a divorced man's mother—herself a lonely widow—moves nearby, making his life miserable with her constant complaining, though her packing up to move again only makes him feel worse. Another story with a single dominant, hard image—"Menudo"—is about "a middle-aged man involved with his neighbor's wife," a state of affairs that forces him to realize his failures with women: his mother, his ex-wife, his present wife. "Intimacy" elaborates on this theme for, here, the narrator shows up unannounced at his ex-wife's house where the shrew harangues him about the past—a past he's already exploited in his "work." More Roth-like reflections on success underpin "Elephant," in which the narrator complains about all those who rely on him for money—his "greedy" mother, his hapless brother, his former wife, his son in college, his white-trashy daughter with children. While this tiresome tale ends with a sloppily sentimental affirmation, "Whoever Was Using This Bed" finds no such hope for the husband and wife who obsess about "death and annihilation," and their bad health and habits. The only surprise in this volume is the final story—a fictional re-creation of Chekhov's death, based largely on memoirs, that's quite unlike any of Carver's previous work, and may signal a new stage in his development, away from the clichÉs of contemporary rootlessness. Regardless of Carver's actual achievement, his spare and simple style has set the tone for a generation of story writers, so that this. ample volume serves as the best introduction to what's happening in contemporary short fiction.

Pub Date: May 31, 1988

ISBN: 0679722319

Page Count: 548

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1988

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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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