Forget the overexplicit morals Dobyns tacks onto so many of these tales (e.g., “Writing . . . took a jumble of information,...



Though it’s taken a while for veteran poet/novelist Dobyns (Boy in the Water, 1999, etc.) to get around to his first volume of short fiction, the 16 stories here are well worth the wait.

Like so many other folks these days, Dobyns’s heroes (and, occasionally, heroines) are leading lives of quiet desperation until something makes them jump their groove: developing a friendship with the man they’re cuckolding; enduring electroshock treatments that awaken them to the moral consequences of their cruel pranks; having to deal with a son depressed over the car crash that killed a friend, or with a visiting professor who won’t check out of the motel room his hosts are paying for. But instead of killing themselves or each other, Dobyns’s suddenly disenfranchised players, like Raymond Carver’s, flip out in far more inventive, less fatal ways. When her poet husband Jason dies after a freak encounter with a falling pig, his widow, stung by the way everyone refashions Jason as the poet who was killed by a pig, eventually uses his risible reputation to escape the burden of grieving. A backwoods farmer who insists that his gas man’s broken leg must be a divine punishment forces the angry, hurting gas man to reexamine his deeds as he lies on the farmer’s basement floor. A boy haunted for life by his meeting with a farmer on the way to kill his wife and her lover ends in death haunting his own son in much the same way. And in the title story, a meet-cute over a dead deer briefly provokes an estranged husband to a bout of tonic atavism before he skips just as abruptly back into his groove.

Forget the overexplicit morals Dobyns tacks onto so many of these tales (e.g., “Writing . . . took a jumble of information, arranged the pieces, and turned it into a mystery”) and let them work their considerable magic.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8050-6022-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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