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The cigarette analogy of “Smoke-Long Stories” would seem to apply—if you smoke a pack straight through, few will be...

The title of this collection of very short stories is its most provocative element.

The publisher calls this book "Flash Fiction," which is described as “the love child of Narrative and Meth Amphetamine.” The foreword proceeds to offer other names for this kind of fiction, saying that “the most charming sobriquet comes from China: Smoke-Long Stories. A narrative that can be read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.” More than 50 stories fit within little more than 100 pages, and they range in length from one paragraph to a couple of pages. They rarely relate to each other, except for two consecutive stories, “Homage” and "Eat at the Downingtown Diner Located Conveniently in Downtown Downingtown," which mention Steve McQueen and seem more like one story. The author's previous books are mostly poetry collections and novels for teenagers (The Ogre’s Wife, 2013, etc.). Here, he draws from classic mythology, Lois Lane’s diary, exchanges between students and schoolteachers, and reflections on the nature of storytelling. Among the more memorable are “University of the Dark," in which the afterlife is an eternal library (“There are a lot worse things than being dead”), and “Principles of Handicapping,” which applies the horse-racing model to, say, “a filly named Teen Age Temptress [who] prefers weekends to weekdays. Past performances show that she tends to sulk and toss her rider on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.” “Money and a Room of One’s Own” concerns a plan to start a small publishing house dedicated to the “marginalized and unappreciated.” 

The cigarette analogy of “Smoke-Long Stories” would seem to apply—if you smoke a pack straight through, few will be memorable, though perhaps rationing them to one at a time over a longer period will enhance the experience.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59709-544-0

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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