Tedious and trite debut. Nothing new here.




Ten stories about men and women in crisis cover familiar ground with no particular flair.

The title story starts off with a heavy hand. On a beach getaway aimed at reconciliation, Paul’s wife, as he starts to reheat his coffee in the microwave, admonishes him: “If you drink it fresh, right after it’s brewed, you’ll get the benefit of its antioxidants. Reheat it, and you’re simply distilling the toxins.” “Just like our relationship,” Paul thinks to himself. The unlisted phone rings, and mysteriously Paul is talking with a terrified woman whose Santa Barbara–bound plane is plunging toward the ocean. By the end of the conversation with the doomed woman, Paul sees the world anew, recognizing how precious life is. But Liz doesn’t. Blake, a wannabe teacher turned editor with a half-finished novel in a drawer, hangs out at a sports bar and gets into trouble by losing bets with a Russian loan shark who demands (“Lesson Plan”) that Blake tutor his son for payment. Too late, he realizes how much he has lost. “All the Same” pits a pedantic professor against a Smith-educated hooker in an encounter her pimp calls “masturbation of the intellect” (the setting is tropical, and the professor “took in the weight of the full moon above, against an immense blanket of stars. Then the iridescent blue of the swimming pool distracted him . . . . ”). Cindy, in “Filagree,” celebrates the third month of living with Raymond by getting a rose tattooed on each breast. But Raymond’s attitude toward her and Mickey, the tattoo artist, leads to much bickering. Will she let Mickey finish the job, despite the pain? That’s all there is to this slight story, while “Matinee,” about a couple deciding to see a movie, is equally thin, and “Saving Grace,” a rambling therapy session as a country singer explores the last hours of his brother’s life, has less emotional strength than it should.

Tedious and trite debut. Nothing new here.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-59264-084-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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