The latest Flannery O'Connor Award winner offers a first volume of 11 stories (most originally published in literary reviews) featuring odd young women and men dealing with loss, failed relationships, and the difficulties of adulthood. Brenner's female slackers don't cultivate their eccentricities; they're just ill at ease in the ordinary world and often find themselves attracted to men of dubious charms. The narrator of ``Round Bar,'' a lover of men and animals, follows her married boyfriend from a bar in Florida where he performs back to his native Nashville, where she waits in a hotel to spend fugitive moments with him. The young woman of ``A Little Something'' falls for an older man with a really good line, one smoothly suggesting a sense of the miraculous. The narrator of ``Easy'' finally bails out of a relation with a violent bully. Lack of ambition plagues Brenner's twentysomething young women: The typist in ``Undisclosed Location'' feels extra-worthless when the fat slob down the hall scores big in the state lottery. A drab secretary in ``Guest Speaker'' invents a new self to present to a visiting speaker whom she must chauffeur from the airport. And in ``I Am the Bear,'' a young woman who hands out ice cream samples in a supermarket while wearing a bear costume loses her job by offending a local celebrity. Brenner's hapless protagonists struggle against their own fears—of wildness, of passion, of danger, and of recklessness. The men in these tales are equally awkward and uncertain: The grad student in ``The Oysters,'' working on a project in Agricultural Science, is frustrated in his love for his married prof and begins to feel like the oysters he's studying. The college-educated waiter in ``The Reverse Phone Book'' experiences so deep a ``chronic unease with the normal pace and pitch of the world'' that people assume he's retarded. Quirky, challenging tales and an impressive debut.

Pub Date: May 16, 1996

ISBN: 0-8203-1794-2

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996

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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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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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