Some diverting anecdotes about life in upstate New York, although many lack tension and depth.

SHORTS THAT FIT WELL

Short stories about family life inspired by a strong faith and belief in miracles.

Beyea opens this collection of fiction and memoir with an endearing story about Sam—a puppy that the narrator’s four children adopted right off their front porch: “Yes, it was just a mutt, but to our kids this was the purest of pure breeds, delivered to them by divine providence.” Sam has a happy, full life despite her sad ending, and Beyea is not entirely figurative when he describes the dog as being delivered by divine providence. Overall, these stories are about everyday life, stressing a belief in God and occasionally invoking typical dad humor. In “He Was a Forty Niner,” the author remembers his “workaholic” father who used to take him and his older brother Bud to the “woodlot” where they would “recreate” things—cutting trees, converting them into fence posts, and indulging in other woodworking projects. In “Baked Beans and Apple Pie,” Beyea remembers his equally industrious mother, Gertie, an “expert seamstress and chef.” Overall, the stories focus on the positive and read more like anecdotal memories than complete narratives; Beyea is a reflective narrator, but his stories lack plot development and other aspects of truly engaging storytelling. The primary strength of the book is in its candor and rumination on the simpler things in life, such as bird-watching and taking in beautiful scenery. Describing his lake house on Lake Champlain, Beyea writes, “We watched magnificent bald eagles, swoop like dive bombers and snatch fish from the lake. For over a year, we were content to relax on our deck and enjoy the beauty created by God.” As a retired New York City police officer, Beyea also offers an intriguing perspective on criminal justice; in one vignette, he remembers coordinating a “restorative justice” program for youth in Clinton County in upstate New York.

Some diverting anecdotes about life in upstate New York, although many lack tension and depth.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5320-8413-3

Page Count: 156

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2020

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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Taylor tackles a variety of taboos and articulates the comfortless sides of the soul, and it's thrilling to watch.

FILTHY ANIMALS

A story collection full of vital insight into murky human interactions.

Lionel, who animates several of the linked stories in this high-wire act of a collection, is a Black, queer graduate student at an unnamed Midwestern university—much like Wallace, the protagonist of Taylor’s Booker Prize–shortlisted debut novel, Real Life (2020). He studies pure math and is recovering from a suicide attempt. At a party, he mimics other grad students’ laughter because he doesn’t innately feel the social cues most people would. But Lionel isn’t devoid of emotion. In fact, the “feeling of falseness vibrating in his sinuses” from pretending to enjoy social events utterly wears him out. So when Lionel becomes involved with bisexual Charles and his girlfriend, Sophie, both of whom are studying dance, the frisson may be too much for him: “Some lives, Lionel thought, had to be ordinary or ugly or painful. Ending your life had to be on the table.” Other stories share this rueful, sepulchral cast of mind. In “Little Beast,” babysitter and private chef Sylvia knows that “the world can’t abide a raw woman.” In the title story, one character’s “favorite act of violence is to burn holes into people’s clothes when they aren’t looking.” The settings here are bleak—alienated suburbs; petty college campuses—and the mood unsparing. But the daring in these stories is bracing. Despite its accolades, Taylor’s debut novel could feel listless; this collection is a deeper achievement.

Taylor tackles a variety of taboos and articulates the comfortless sides of the soul, and it's thrilling to watch.

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-53891-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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