A thoroughly enjoyable collection in which O’Neill treats his characters with a wry sympathy and a sense of fun.

GOOD TROUBLE

In 11 stories, the author of Netherland (2008) looks at crises, fads, and conundrums among the aging denizens of 21st-century New York.

With six of these stories first appearing in either the New Yorker or Harper’s, it’s clear that O’Neill (The Dog, 2014, etc.) produces well-made, fairly mainstream short fiction. He probes the frictions that make marriages and families fissure or fight for survival, the situations where discomfort breeds anxiety and resentment mushrooms into malaise. A poet who's asked to sign a "poetician" for the pardon of Edward Snowden bemoans Bob Dylan’s Nobel and in his chagrin seems to break out of his writer’s block. The retired teachers in “The Trusted Traveler” accept the “strangely fictional few hours” when a former student joins them for dinner once a year, enduring this time a recitation of his troubles with a sperm bank. An awkward visit to a fertility clinic in “Ponchos” punctuates a man’s ruminations as they swivel between a marriage strained by two years of trying to conceive and the buddy chat of three fellow stool perchers at a diner. There’s often a subversive, comic element in O’Neill’s writing. “The World of Cheese” centers on a rancorous dispute between a woman and her son over his child’s circumcision, but the narrative also notes the father’s new infatuation with cheese, including a “cheesing trip to Ireland.” With a faux academic tone (“Social historians will record”), the narrator in “The Mustache in 2010” moves from a survey of facial hair to a man’s peculiar shaving habits to recalling a contretemps seven years earlier between two people at a charity auction and then finds herself crying even as she tries to parse “the state of the upper-middle-class adventure” objectively: “I’m brushing tears from my eyes, it should be documented.”

A thoroughly enjoyable collection in which O’Neill treats his characters with a wry sympathy and a sense of fun.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-524-74735-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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