Breaking news: Maizes’ gently witty and vaguely weird collection is well worth reading.

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WE LOVE ANDERSON COOPER

This debut is populated by characters who make unusual choices (big or small, intentional or not) and then face the fallout.

Some books of short stories feel like subtle variations on a theme—practically the same tale over and over again. Not this one. The 11 entries in Maizes’ collection are deliciously diverse. In the title story, Markus, a 13-year-old boy, decides to come out via his bar mitzvah speech and then copes with the cascading consequences of his bold, unusual choice. “Remember the valedictorian who came out in his graduation speech? His video was downloaded two million times….That’s what I’m going to do in temple,” Markus tells his boyfriend. In “Collections,” Maya, a 65-year-old woman, struggles to adjust to her significantly diminished status and circumstances after the death of her wealthy partner of 14 years, for whom she had originally been hired to cook. “The bedroom wasn’t far from the kitchen,” we’re told. In “Couch,” a therapist’s practice and life are dramatically transformed when she replaces the seating in her office with a couch that magically improves the outlook of anyone who sits on it. “Patients so depressed they questioned the value of their lives, so anxious they rarely left their homes, found relief as soon as they settled onto the sea-foam cushions,” Maizes informs us. Certainly there are a few recurring elements in these stories: Jewish characters, beloved pets, people who love obsessively and/or unrequitedly, and tragic deaths, to name a few. Yet each succinct fictional nugget rolls inexorably along its own quirky trajectory, arrives at its own unexpected destination, and never overstays its welcome. Titular shoutout to a CNN talking head notwithstanding, this is a book about the heart.

Breaking news: Maizes’ gently witty and vaguely weird collection is well worth reading.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30407-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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