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In a second collection, Hemley picks up where he left off in All You Can Eat (1988): lots of disaffected folks, in stories that try too hard to be quirky. The title piece sets the tone for much that follows. Peter is an eavesdropper and a prankster, struggling to receive some attention from a mother who can't focus beyond her boyfriend du jour. While the story has its funny moments, it (like too many here) leaves you feeling that life is just too disconnected to mean much of anything. Ditto ``The Last Customer,'' where a man and woman haggle over their food order—as the world outside is literally ``crumbling to pieces'': at the close, a piece of land rips free and the two hagglers are propelled up into space. Stories like ``A Printer's Tale'' and ``The Perfect World'' offer some sharp digs over the state of contemporary poetry but have trouble moving beyond the single joke. In ``The Holocaust Party,'' however, Hemley deals with more weighty matters. Here, the disaffected character is firmly in place, wondering at all the strangeness around him, but he does get a glimpse into the complicated nature of people whose brittle surfaces mask deeper hurts. Human frailty is the subject of ``My Father's Bawdy Song,'' an appealing tale of a man trying to know his long-dead father, even as he fears he might have inherited his legacy of failure. Of the 16 pieces here, though, ``Sleeping Over'' is by far the best. In it, a young boy makes friends with a local misfit, then is pushed away for reasons he can't comprehend. The reader understands, though, and is chilled by the knowledge. A few of Hemley's stories linger, disturb, and enlighten, but they make the bulk of the collection that much more problematic- -and, by comparison, very thin.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-89587-128-9

Page Count: 194

Publisher: John F. Blair

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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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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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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