Exquisite: beautifully, perfectly imagined and written. Weird, too. A little heavy for the beach, perhaps, but perfect...

LAST STORIES AND OTHER STORIES

Vollmann (The Book of Dolores, 2013, etc.) turns his considerable intelligence and skill to a broad genre that doesn’t get much respect—namely, the ghost story.

Not all the pieces in this collection are ghost stories as such, mind you; not everything here goes bump in the night. But the very title is suggestive of Vollmann’s intent: These are not his last stories, or so we hope, but instead the last stories of men and women who are soon to become dust. Vollmann’s omniscient narrator instructs us, early on, in what to expect, intoning, “[t]o the extent that the dead live on, the living must resemble them,” and adding, to the list of axioms, the observation, “[c]onfessing such resemblance, we should not reject the possibility that we might at this very moment be dead.” In the first story, a blameless young couple, newly married, find themselves mowed down by sniper fire in a grassy lot in Sarajevo. Says that narrator, having darkly admired the skill of the gunner and raised a speculation or two about the events, “everyone agrees that the corpses of the two lovers lay rotting for days, because nobody dared to approach them.” The two hapless Bosnians needed La Llorona, the ghost of Mexican folklore, to warn them away from dangerous places; she turns up in another story, in which Vollmann ingeniously retells her legend, noting her bad habit of stealing away innocent children: “So La Llorona kept little Manuel, who was quite fetching except for the fact that his face resembled a death’s-head.” Small wonder those calaveras are so prevalent south of the border. After traveling the world, Vollmann brings us to an America in which death has definitely not taken a holiday: A dying man, having seen much of death before, finally gets to have a conversation with the love he’d lost track of ages before; that closing story is long, pensive and, like the others here, utterly haunting.

Exquisite: beautifully, perfectly imagined and written. Weird, too. A little heavy for the beach, perhaps, but perfect reading for the Day of the Dead.

Pub Date: July 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-01597-9

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

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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