Perhaps “flash fiction” is the name for these stories, but Heynen has been writing them since before that term came into...



A collection of very short pieces—some less than one page, none longer than two—that find inspiration in character sketches written by the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus.

Heynen (The One-room Schoolhouse: Stories About the Boys, 1993, etc.) suggests in his introduction that the “brief verbal snapshots” of his classic model provided the genesis of this collection; the title and the gentle humor throughout attest to his own generosity of spirit. Only one character has a name—the protagonist of the final story, “John Doe” (and he moves through pseudonyms in a “pursuit of anonymity” that draws more unwanted attention to him). Every other protagonist (and the majority of these stories have only one character) is an Everyman or -woman characterized by some eccentricity that may seem odd but isn’t evil and makes for some sort of common bond with the rest of the human menagerie. The author suggests that he might even be “mocking himself” in some of these pieces, “several of which are thinly disguised self-portraits.” You might not want to invite him home if he’s the hero of “Keeping One’s Secret,” whose “secret was that he urinated wherever he pleased.” Many of the stories, like that one, are essentially character description without the sort of chronological progression that could be termed plot, but those with some action read more like parables or fables. “The Girl and the Cherry Tree” is about a girl who's warned that “if you don’t stop eating so many cherries, cherries will start growing out of your ears.” And they do! As a pre-emptive strike, “The Book Reviewer” suggests the sort of disdain that the author of such a collection might feel toward those who will try to categorize it, concluding that it’s “all a matter of taste, anyhow.”

Perhaps “flash fiction” is the name for these stories, but Heynen has been writing them since before that term came into vogue.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-57131-090-3

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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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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