Krawiec (Faith in What?, 1996) is a strong writer, though his work is frequently hard to take. There's no denying his gift for storytelling, the stark truthfulness of detail, the weirdly derailing sense of finding oneself in the grip of life the way it really is rather than the way fictionmongers have told us it is. In the first of these 12 stories, "Maggots, Infidelity, and the Oyster Roast," you pretty much have the basic irony right in the title. A freethinker whose job for the past 12 years has been stocking shelves at the Food Coop finds that his mate is having an affair with his best friend. To talk things over, he takes her, rather against her will, to an oyster roast in the country where everyone sits slobbering down all the oysters they can eat (a pigs-at-the-trough scene much like Leopold Bloom's dismaying search for a civilized luncheon in Dublin). Life then gives the man's true-blue honesty a whipping he'll never forget. "Lovers" is a searing comedy about a 15-year-old girl named Bonnie who gives birth to her dead baby in an ice cooler as she sets out to better herself in life by imitating Bonnie and Clyde. The collection's most complex piece, "The House of Women," reveals the way women's needs can betray them at the very depths of their lives. And now we sit wised up, but no less the fools of God.

Life put to the rack.

Pub Date: June 15, 2000

ISBN: 1-888105-42-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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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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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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