A disturbing blend of fairy tale and Freudian strangeness which comments on the outlandish fatalism of the American myth.


A debut collection melds the European fairy tale with the American yarn into an assemblage of accidental magic, frustrated metamorphoses, and chance meetings with a bewildered divine.

Habermeyer’s stories inhabit the automated modernity of the 21st-century world in a way that recalls the lingering magic of the Grimm brothers’ deep, dark woods. In “The Foot,” an enormous human foot is tugged ashore and immediately becomes a focal point for gawkers, dilettante scientists, New Age worshipers, and feral children all focused on proving this miracle is more than just the sum of its part. In “St. Abelard’s Zoo for Endangered Species,” a controlling mother is mistaken for a snow leopard until she mistakes herself for a snow leopard and is then unceremoniously dumped back into her ill-fitting human life. Rife with this sort of untransformative metamorphosis, the stories linger in the forgotten spaces of the American mystique—hardscrabble towns that do not assume the dignity of their labor; bland suburbs that do not sanctify the families who inhabit them; miraculous visitations of God’s love or wrath that do not clarify the direction of the characters’ lives. In many stories (“A Cosmonaut’s Guide to Microgravitic Reproduction,” “Everything You Wanted to Know About Astrophysics But Were Too Afraid To Ask,” “What the Body Does When It Doesn’t Know What Else To Do”), Kafka’s surreal bureaucracies are blended with the particularly American myth of the homespun, and wholly unqualified, expert. Others (“Visitation,” “Ellie’s Brood,” “The Fertile Yellow,” “In Search of Fortunes Not Yet Lost,”) delve into the symbolic archetypes of woman as empty vessel, empty egg, source of arcane magic, castrating hacker of turkey necks and stacks of kindling. Crowded with metaphor and only loosely linked events, these stories can overwhelm the reader with the sheer vigor of their worlds; however, the total effect of all this ultrafamiliar strangeness is a provocative discombobulation that repays the patient reader’s perseverance.

A disturbing blend of fairy tale and Freudian strangeness which comments on the outlandish fatalism of the American myth.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942683-60-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: BOA Editions

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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