Might well amuse the slacker crowd, but more demanding readers will find the laughs ultimately hollow.



A stylish but ultimately slight debut collection of nine stories: think early Lorrie Moore, but without the empathy and insight.

Canadian writer Gartner strikes the obligatory hipster pose of ironic detachment without delivering much in the way of feeling. Nonetheless, she uses her sharp wit to deft advantage in portraying a parade of clever, observant, sardonic female protagonists who are, generally speaking, fed up: with men, their jobs, their lives. In `City of My Dreams,` a young woman working in a soap and cosmetics store in Vancouver reviews with stinging humor some of the absurd twists her life has taken. The most striking story here, `The Nature of Pure Evil,` centers on Hedy, whose lover has left her to marry another woman. First, she avenges herself by calling in a phony bomb threat to a restaurant where she knows the two are dining. Then things snowball, and Hedy begins to make random bomb threats having nothing to do with her lover; she gets a subversive thrill out of calling the shots and seeing people dance to her tune. Nothing much happens in this tale—nothing of real consequence happens in any of the stories—but it exemplifies Gartner's quirky voice and her feel for the way people drift through their lives without ever giving away what they're really thinking. But a little of Gartner's style goes a long way: a story can only skate so far on attitude alone, and one hungers for a character that doesn't evaporate the moment the page is turned.

Might well amuse the slacker crowd, but more demanding readers will find the laughs ultimately hollow.

Pub Date: June 13, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-49911-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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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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