Now that this excellent series is firmly established among must-read annuals, Ravenel should skip the apologetic introductions in which she repeatedly tries to justify the regional basis for her anthology. The evidence speaks for itself here—16 stories by or about southerners that embrace a wide range of literary and geographical experience. Many of the stories focus on coming-of-age in the South, from Nanci Kincaid's teenage girls hanging out at a Tallahassee movie theater (``This is Not the Picture Show'') to Jill McCorkle's shy young girl who lives vicariously through the postcards form her wild, older sister (``Waiting for the Hard Times to End''). Young people deal with domestic tragedy in Barbara Hudson's ``The Arabesque,'' the story of two sisters confronted by their mother's madness and early death; in Rick Bass's ``In the Loyal Mountains,'' a beautifully written profile of the narrator's big-spending Texan uncle who commits suicide rather than suffer the consequences of his shady business dealings; and in Reynolds Price's overwrought ``His Final Mother,'' a boy's meditation on his mother's sudden death. Lee Smith's ``Intensive Care,'' the story of a former high-school nerd who pursues an improbable passion, confronts death with a healthy dose of schmaltz. The least convincing narrative voices here include the successful Vietnamese immigrant in Robert Olen Butler's ``Relic,'' the young grandmother of Bobbie Ann Mason's typically hard-luck ``With Jazz,'' and the drunk and sexually inadequate good old boy of Larry Brown's ``Big Bad Love.'' The strongest pieces range from Mark Richard's hilarious and sad tale of boys in an orphanage hospital on Christmas Eve (``The Birds for Christmas'') to Susan Starr Richards's unusual paean to porch life and the strange bonds of sisters in ``The Screened Porch.'' Robert Morgan's story of a Civil War-era stone mason (``Poinsett's Bridge'') and Thomas Phillips Brewer's riff on southern junkies (``Black Cat Bone'') add an interesting dimension to a somewhat homogeneous volume. Peter Taylor's graceful and evocative ``Cousin Aubrey'' easily earns its lead-off position. Once again, southern fiction mostly at its best.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-82-3

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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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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