FAMILY SINS AND OTHER STORIES

Throughout Trevor's series of collections of beautifully crafted, acute, and affecting short stories, there has never been that outcropping of self-parody that is apt to afflict the work of prolific practitioners of such a confining art form. Each of Trevor's Fate-shackled characters who loiter into a twilight sadness—or bemused acceptance of Things-As-They-Inexplicably-Are—is a fully realized, breathing being who occupies unique space and time. Here, men and women struggle within the labyrinth of family—with its indelible stains from the past and its present imperatives for predator and prey. In the title story, a grandfather's cruelty is amplified and adapted by a grandson and visited upon a vulnerable girl. The daughter of a suicide in "In Love with Ariadne" lives in the shadow of her father's sin and shame. Then public shame scorches two rural families whose security is community reputation: in "A Husband's Return," family "silence" will deny a scandal, but will also doom compassion and love; an aging couple in "Events at Drimaghleen," whose tragedy was absorbed by respectful and sympathetic neighbors, is victimized by a team of brass-headed journalists to find themselves uprooted, exposed in scandal. Fathers also unwittingly wound children: a young girl is hired out for a hated servant's job while her dear dad gains a longed-for field; and a headmaster's son bears the crushing burden of his family's honor among violent-minded schoolboys. Love, or its souring, is sometimes cruel, too—"unsuitable." A single woman reflects on one brief, long-ago idyll with a married man: "For both of them, the pattern of their lives has formed around a moment in an afternoon." In another tale, a man sent by his estranged wife to discuss future plans with her apparently future husband (who's rather a fathead) turns some screws, boozily enjoying himself in a bar, but at last cannot release his lying, impossible wife—and he doesn't know why. Another fine collection by this Irish author, here centering on the plight of people held fast by the familial network of peculiar tensions that can both hold and strangle.

Pub Date: May 1, 1990

ISBN: 0886194415

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1990

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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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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