Galchen’s stories feel remarkably believable, despite their suggestion of alternate worlds and lives. This is a collection...

AMERICAN INNOVATIONS

STORIES

In this story collection—which follows her debut novel, the well-received Atmospheric Disturbances (2008)—Galchen, one of the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40, continues to plumb the unbelievable and unknowable mysteries of existence.

These are literary short stories, but there’s a detective lurking in their author, who peels back fine layers of life with close observation to uncover clues about the physics of daily living and how we process the world. In the title story, a woman wakes one morning to discover a third breast has grown on her back; she has to wrestle with societal expectations of beauty and identity. In "Once an Empire," the narrator says, “I’m a pretty normal woman…,” which immediately cues the reader to wonder what isn’t normal about her, or the story; soon she's watching the contents of her apartment—furniture, utensils and objects—get up and walk out. Do these things represent her life, and if they’re so important to her, why is she willing to watch them leave? And things get stranger in "The Region of Unlikeness": A woman discovers that her crush, a man she met at a cafe, is supposedly a time traveler, and his friend, whom she doesn’t much care for, is his father—and maybe her potential future husband. Not all the stories venture into the fantastic, though; many poke and prod at the challenges of the everyday, as in "Sticker Shock," which compares the finances of a mother and daughter and is written in the tone of an accountant’s review, and "The Lost Order," in which a woman obscures the fact that she’s lost her job from her husband and ponders what her life will be like as "a daylight ghost, a layabout, a mal pensant, a vacancy, a housewife, a person foiled by the challenge of getting dressed….”

Galchen’s stories feel remarkably believable, despite their suggestion of alternate worlds and lives. This is a collection to read and keep on the bookshelf. It will stand the test of time.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-28047-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

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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