Schiff’s startlingly honest, deliciously wry stories herald the arrival of a beguiling new talent.

A talented young writer explores sex, death, and family relationships in this spare, enticing story collection.

“I only know about parent death and sluttiness,” Schiff declares in “Write What You Know,” the final story in her arresting debut collection. “What else do I know?” She goes on to list a host of other topics—“the psychology of Jewish people who have assimilated,” “liberal guilt and sexual guilt and taking liberties sexually,” “unrequited love, and love that was once requited, but not for very long” among them—all of which we’ve already gleaned from devouring the irresistible stories here. But Schiff leaves out one thing: she also knows how to seduce a reader as blithely as some of her characters casually bed men, writing in stylishly simple and almost staccato prose, beneath the surface of which we soon spot roiling emotions—feelings of loss, the urge to connect. The young women and girls we meet here sleep around and suffer consequences (“The Bed Moved”) or don’t (“Little Girl”). They help their fathers (“Longviewers”), mourn them in expected ways (“Another Cake”), and absorb posthumously revealed paternal secrets (“http://www.msjiz/boxx374/mpeg”). They explore the possibilities of budding sexuality at nerdy Geology Camp (“Schwartz, Spiegel, Zaveri, Cho”) and the limits of proud promiscuity (“Tips”). Some of the 23 stories in this slim volume are amusingly out there (“Rate Me”; “Communication Arts”); others hit close to home. But after taking them all in, we may find ourselves quite taken with this distinctive new voice in fiction, hungry for more of it and—like the collection’s titular bed—moved.

Schiff’s startlingly honest, deliciously wry stories herald the arrival of a beguiling new talent.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87541-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016



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




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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