Serving recommendation: One story per sitting. The book may be savored longer that way.


Rage in all its ugly glory takes center stage in this delectable debut collection.

The characters populating the landscape of these nine stories exist mostly in a rarefied life of the mind—scholars, teachers, reviewers, artists—until some crisis forces them to focus their powers of observation on themselves. In “An Excitable Woman,” an academic has no idea what to do about his spiteful mother, who lives only for the pleasure of rejecting the approaches of her “big-shot professor son.” The protagonist of “Samantha,” a black student full of a “surging, corrosive indignation,” is spoiling for a fight with anyone at her predominantly white college—the audio-visual department assistant, a minority affairs counselor, the bookstore cashier—until a brief encounter with a professor yields some surprises, not least of which is her own response. A music aficionado, awed by a fellow audience member (“The Stranger”) who physically removes a whole row of disruptive teenagers from their seats at a Tanglewood concert, begins to stalk the man until he finds himself engaged in an even more violent act. In “The Visit,” an up-and-coming poetry critic meets Robert Lowell and his wife, Lady Caroline, in their trashed bedroom at the Gramercy Hotel in a set piece that is part Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, part “Beavis and Butthead.” In “Secrets and Sons,” a magazine editor and long-time friend to a dying poet is forced to come to terms with his competitive hatred for the poet’s uneducated gay ward when he is upstaged at the funeral by voluminous evidence that he knew only one small part of the man’s life. Boyers’s stories about academics and art-lovers who hide their more ignoble characteristics until life inevitably draws them out is exquisitely crafted and acutely observed.

Serving recommendation: One story per sitting. The book may be savored longer that way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-885586-40-X

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Turtle Point

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet