Delightful examples of Donoghue’s all-encompassing talent that should be read by fans of her period pieces as well as her...

TOUCHY SUBJECTS

STORIES

The author of two intelligent, atmospheric historical novels, Slammerkin (2001) and Life Mask (2004), reapplies her sharp eye to the contemporary world in 19 engaging short stories.

How we live today is not a new subject for Donoghue, whose early fiction includes the coming-of-age tale Stir-Fry (1994) and an elegiac portrait of a long-term lesbian romance (Hood, 1996). Same-sex affairs and general gender confusion remain fruitful topics for the author’s unsentimental probing in such stories as “Team Men,” “Speaking in Tongues” and “The Welcome”—the latter also geing a very funny portrait of politically correct collective life in a women’s commune. But just as Donoghue can rove from the historic to the modern world, she matches the acuity of her looks at homosexual relations with her astuteness about heterosexual families (“Through the Night”), the longing for a baby (the hilarious title story and “The Man Who Wrote on Beaches”) and people’s obsessive devotion to their pets (“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “The Cost of Things”). Not that these stories can be categorized under a single category heading; they’re too multifaceted, too cognizant of the complexity of human nature for that. Donoghue has the born storyteller’s knack for sketching a personality and pulling readers into a plot in just a few pages, and she confidently changes scenes from her native Ireland to her current home in Canada or America’s West Coast without ever losing her ability to evoke authentic emotions and landscapes. Most impressive of all is her gentleness toward her characters: “WritOr,” the chronicle of a Writer-in-Residence’s bleak sojourn to a small-town college contains some of the funniest, saddest descriptions ever of people’s pathetic delusions of literary grandeur, concluding with someone of genuine talent turning up in the writer’s office, leaving him “dangling somewhere between hope and despair.”

Delightful examples of Donoghue’s all-encompassing talent that should be read by fans of her period pieces as well as her gay audience—indeed, by anyone who cherishes thoughtful, warm-hearted fiction.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-15-101386-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2006

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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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