Stylistically rooted in the conventional, probing at the transgressive.



Eleven tales in a third collection from veteran small-press author Bingham (Straight Man, 1996, etc.)

The central theme here is expressed by the protagonist of “The Big Bed”: “Liz wanted, the summer she turned sixty-four, to pass through unconditional love . . . to what appeared to be its inevitable other side: transgression.” Transgression, for Liz, amounts to arranging a threesome for her wanderer-lover in the misguided hope that she can keep him. But that’s not the first one. The first transgression comes in “Apricots,” when an aging college instructor finds herself, by her own design, jamming fruit alongside one of her students, a young man with tanned hands who is quite familiar with the sexual nature of the scenario. In “Benjamin,” an aging painter, languorous in fame and conceit, attends the unveiling of a signature work and meets a young woman—another transgression—who will reveal both his weakness and what strength he has left. An aging momma’s boy’s (“Stanley”) failure to outgrow the social conventions of the schoolyard leads to awkwardness on a date (a failure to transgress), which in turn leads to a pathological fascination with the woman who seems, awfully, to be perfect for him. The final piece (“The Splinter”) is a quiet story about another older woman who finds herself alone with another young man, gay this time and in for the equivalent of a foot-washing ceremony and discussion of the fickleness of men and the fleeting nature of human relations. Other tales are about a woman who decides to leave an ill lover (“Rat”) and a husband who tells a wife about a long-lost love in a cave in Crete (“Loving”). Bingham’s career is in its fifth decade; perhaps this accounts for Liz’s conclusion that “For what, after all . . . is the use of age if it doesn’t bring us to courage?”

Stylistically rooted in the conventional, probing at the transgressive.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-889330-77-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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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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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

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