A long time coming for the first collection of short fiction from a well-established source.



Broughton (Hob’s Daughter, 1984, etc.) returns with a broad range of tales in a variety of styles and emotional landscapes reflecting his vast experience and travel.

Often a simple premise gets things going here, quickly expanding into stories that tell entire histories. In “Ashes,” a death in the family will be a young man’s last nudge toward adulthood, leading him to realize that “the cabin and landscape, in exchange for his pledge of leaving, were giving up secrets to him that he had forgotten.” A woman, in “The Classicist,” stuck with her widowed Greek-scholar father, contemplates both her final youthful indulgences and the pregnancy that has resulted from them. “The Terrorist” heads into dangerous territory with a literary-genre piece complete with guns and bombs, yet always remaining serious in the manner of Graham Greene’s “entertainments.” A brother bails out his sister at the start of “Living the Revolution,” only to trigger family memories devoid of innocence but able to help them all along in the journey to find themselves. And in “The Wars I Missed,” a man’s history reveals his covetousness of others’ loss in the wake of far-away battles from which he’s excused—a safety that turns out to be not so safe: “I had learned that night that somewhere deep in places I will never reach, far beyond any chance of ultimate healing, there is an unforgiving pain.” These are tales that start small both in subject and emotion but then crescendo, gathering a kind of inertia of the heart, until what they address by the end is vaster than the beginning by many orders of magnitude. One gets the sense both of wisdom and experience brought to bear, joined to a sensitive intellect shaped by years of training in novel writing and poetry.

A long time coming for the first collection of short fiction from a well-established source.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-885635-05-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. Press of Colorado

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet