Modern fiction aficionados will most likely embrace Steinberg’s technique and vision; lovers of traditional short stories...



An unconventional approach to storytelling makes this third compilation of short tales by Steinberg (Hydroplane, 2006, etc.) difficult to navigate.

Utilizing repetitive phrasing and a free-flow writing style paired with violent undertones and psychosexual themes, these 12 interconnected pieces explore a multitude of negative sensations that are emotionally draining. How we cope with guilt, anger and loss or commit actions that damage our own lives and relationships are some of the recurring themes that bind these tales together. In one story, a woman goes hiking with a man she likes, and they are accompanied by his friend, a stranger whom she doesn’t like, and she ends up having a sexual encounter with the stranger. Steinberg challenges our ideals of femininity and masculinity as she writes about a young woman, seething with anger and jealousy, who steals her boyfriend’s car radio and smashes it, only to discover that the act of revenge doesn’t have the satisfying effect she anticipated. When an acquaintance dies in an explosive plane crash in the title story, the narrator struggles with her own complex feelings, including resentment toward her father, who wouldn’t allow her to study abroad. And in "Cowboys," a woman deals with the decision to take her father off life support but doesn’t want to bear the responsibility, and thus the guilt, of making the decision on her own. Terse and angry, introspective and raw, Steinberg’s experimental writing style will not appeal to everyone. Her focus is on the emotion rather than on the character or action; the author hits the reader head-on with candid language and uncomfortable themes, and she does this well.

Modern fiction aficionados will most likely embrace Steinberg’s technique and vision; lovers of traditional short stories may find her writing difficult to follow.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55597-631-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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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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