Smart and technically accomplished fiction that is sometimes a bit too self-consciously artful.



Past traumas bleed into present experiences in Lippmann’s stark, occasionally enigmatic debut collection.

A divorced slacker dad, good in his teenage son’s eyes only for beer runs and his not-too-attentive chaperonage of a ski trip, remains haunted by the car crash that killed his best friend (“The Last Resort”). Ten years after her toddler brother fell into an empty swimming pool and died before her eyes, the narrator of “Everyone Has Your Best Interests at Heart” is still punishing herself, listlessly going through the motions in a dead-end summer job, with no plans now that she’s graduated high school, and taking up with the vaguely creepy host of a reptile show. Parenthood only brings more woe; in both “Jew” and “All This Happiness,” thoughts of their terminally ill babies shadow the protagonists’ actions. The settled moms of “Body Scan” and “Reunion” seem nostalgic for their wild, pre-kid days, while the embittered divorcée of “Doll Palace” says of her once-adored ex, “[e]veryone falls short in real life.” Lippmann writes well about damaged lives and ambivalent relationships, and she displays a knack for crafting mildly surreal scenarios that reveal the characters’ fragile emotional states (“Starter Home,” “Talisman”). She also has a weakness for abruptly ringing down the curtain on her stories with jarring developments left ostentatiously unexplained (“The Best of Us,” “Queen of Hearts,” “Babydollz”). This taste for obfuscation is balanced by sharp observations of the social landscape: The mother crankily guiding two girls through endless lines at Doll Palace, the “overpriced and unopposed retailer of all things doll,” or the restless wife attending the funeral of a high school boyfriend, passing “identical stucco townhomes with plastic play yards out front where apparently half of the entire class lived and screwed each other and worked to make ends meet.”

Smart and technically accomplished fiction that is sometimes a bit too self-consciously artful.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9910657-1-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dock Street Press

Review Posted Online: July 30, 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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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