Humor comes easily to Rich, but he’s at his best when he pushes against the boundaries of his jokes.

SPOILED BRATS

STORIES

Humorist Rich’s (The Last Girlfriend on Earth, 2013, etc.) latest collection is predictably funny, though sometimes digs deeper.

Imagine a petty, oft-rejected writer complaining to his girlfriend about the “literary establishment”: “They hate that I’m trying to do something new—it terrifies them!” It’s a familiar rant to the girlfriend, who leaves, feigning frustration, only to place a call as soon as she hits the sidewalk, whispering, “He’s onto us,” and then…well, never mind. This review shouldn’t ruin the punch line of Rich’s “Distractions,” for the pleasure of this and other pieces comes from watching each joke unfold. Unfortunately, this also suggests the book’s larger hindrance: There’s not much here besides the jokes. The result is amusing, sure, but slight, like watching an uneven episode of Saturday Night Live (where Rich once worked as a writer) in which some skits stick the landing, some provoke mild chuckles, and some offer the opportunity to use the bathroom or play with your phone. The nearly 80-page novella Sell Out suggests something much different, however. In it, a hardworking immigrant in early-20th-century Brooklyn is accidentally preserved in pickle brine, only to awaken 100 years later. He tracks down his great-great-grandson, the author himself, a self-absorbed, neurotic disappointment. This story is funny, but it gestures toward something deeper about the dreams we foist upon our family members and icons and also the ensuing disappointments. Elsewhere, Rich puts his jokes first, but in Sell Out, the characters are paramount, and readers ought to return to this story. Otherwise, once is the right amount of times to read most of these pieces—and given Rich’s breezy style, once won’t be a chore at all.

Humor comes easily to Rich, but he’s at his best when he pushes against the boundaries of his jokes.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-36862-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

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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