Somewhat marred by stock Southern regionalism, though the best stories rise above cliché.


Geography and chronology link the stories in Horack’s debut, set along the Gulf Coast in the year of Hurricane Katrina.

Winner of the 2008 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize for fiction, this collection recalls the hard-boiled Southern sensibility of Larry Brown, though the author has yet to equal Brown’s command of tone and depth of character. Stories vary in length—some vignettes are as short as a page and a half—and in quality, from engagingly subtle to ponderous. Among the heaviest-handed is “The Journeyman,” whose portents telegraph their punches. After a little girl in her Sunday church dress discovers a serpent under a man’s porch, she warns, “God and Jesus are up to something…Reverend Gary says they gonna punish this city soon enough.” Prophesized in the “Spring” section (the collection is organized by season), the punishment arrives by the end of “Summer.” “The Redfish,” perhaps the best piece, evokes Katrina and its aftermath in a parable of innocence, guilt and redemption. In other tales, protagonists deal with moral ambiguities. “The High Place I Go” depicts a nurse, convinced that her husband is cheating on her and that the end of their marriage is imminent, who becomes involved with one of her patients. A commercial fisherman finds romantic comfort with the young Mexican woman who does his cleaning, whom others suspect of being a prostitute, in “Burke’s Maria.” Even before the hurricane, many of these characters lead hard lives, though not all of them are hard people. The closest they come to philosophy is, “ain’t it funny where life takes us?”

Somewhat marred by stock Southern regionalism, though the best stories rise above cliché.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-23278-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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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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