ARVIDA

An uneven collection of stories about cruel men, enigmatic women, and frightened children.

Ghost stories, fables, and childhood memories from the great white north.

Perhaps the personal nature of these stories combined with their specific geographic setting will make them more meaningful to readers in Francophone Canada. Unfortunately, this translated collection's purposeful ambiguity and painterly writing style make the entries feel more like impressions of scenes rather than solid stories. Most of the tales are set in the title village, a small industrial community north of Quebec City. The opener, “My Father and Proust,” and its companion piece, “The Centre of Leisure and Forgetfulness,” are generic memoirs about childhood. Others are anomalies like “América,” a crime caper about an attempt to smuggle a woman over the border, and “Jigai,” an eerie portrait of a self-mutilating refugee. Much of the collection attempts to mimic classical gothicism. “Cryptozoology” portrays a strange creature in the woods from the point of view of an adolescent boy. “A Mirror in the Mirror” is a slight tale about a woman who pines away for an absent playwright and ultimately becomes the ghost that haunts him. A triptych of stories labeled “Blood Sisters” concern themselves with the monsters that roam the lives of girls. In the final sequence of the trilogy, “Paris in the Rain,” a woman is left alone in a morgue with the dismembered body of a man. “God is love and that’s why he’s terrible,” she says. “You can’t live, knowing that. You can just destroy your life and destroy your body and push others away and hurt others. You can just be evil and I was evil all the time and it’s your fault and the fault of the stupid God who loved you like he loved me, of God who loved you, big dirty dog, and who loved me, damaged little girl.”

An uneven collection of stories about cruel men, enigmatic women, and frightened children.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77196-042-7

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

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

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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