The beating hearts of Patterson’s characters and the directness of her voice make the grim material bearable, sometimes...


The West Coast characters inhabiting these 16 stories from Patterson (The Little Brother, 2015) vary in age and socio-economic status, but all are caught in an acute struggle against emotional loss and personal failure.

“How To Lose”—about an infertile woman experiencing the intense anxiety of maternal love for her orphaned 8-year-old nephew as he learns to swim—sets the bittersweet tone for the stories that follow. In “Vandals,” a lonely, long-divorced attorney finally faces the fact that his ex-wife and son have “moved on.” The wife in “DC” accepts responsibility for torpedoing a decent 23-year marriage with a meaningless affair, unlike the philandering but still devoted ex-husband in “Paris.” Bad choices and addiction are common here, but Patterson’s unfussy prose draws the reader into her complex, sometimes even convoluted relationships. For instance in “Confetti,” a fired lecturer who has degenerated into an alcoholic bum upends her former lover’s quiet professorial life one way after another. The earnest young single mother of "Half-Truth,” who finds herself inexorably drawn back into a perilous relationship with her 6-year-old son’s worthless, drug-addled father, exemplifies Patterson’s ability to create characters whose abilities to feel deeply make them sympathetic despite their emotional and ethical failures. Patterson sometimes plays with the importance of secrecy in relationships. In “Johnny Hitman,” a heroin addict and a born-again Christian maintain a guarded friendship without directly confronting the childhood sexual trauma that has shaped their twisted intimacy. A similar secret besets the multigenerational family in “Visitations.” Optimism flickers in “Fledglings,” “Dogs,” "Parking Far Away,” and “We Know Things,” as young women show signs of growing beyond their traumas. The final two stories return to bittersweet territory. "Appetite” follows the faltering friendship between a former ballerina and a secretary who is discovering her own creative voice; “Nobody’s Business” focuses without sentimentality on a teenage boy learning to accept outside support and possible love while caring for his dying mother.

The beating hearts of Patterson’s characters and the directness of her voice make the grim material bearable, sometimes almost hopeful.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64009-052-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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