Van Booy clearly believes there are surprising new ways to write about love. Here, he proves he’s right, occasionally.

TALES OF ACCIDENTAL GENIUS

STORIES

A tenderhearted clutch of stories and fables that highlights interconnectedness between everyone from fashionistas to peasantry, ranging from Brooklyn to London to Beijing.

Van Booy is an unrepentant softie: two of his prior story collections highlight the word “love” in their titles (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2007; Love Begins in Winter, 2009), and sentimentality runs deep here, too. Indeed, it sometimes overflows. “The Goldfish” is a treacly tale about a man seeking medical help for a dead fish he’s persuaded himself is only ailing and another man’s small act of kindness that spares him sorrow; in “A Slow and Deliberate Disappearance,” a magician visits a retirement home, where a pair of stories he hears about eroding memories fuses in a predictable and old-fashioned manner. Van Booy displayed a similar romanticism in his 2013 novel, The Illusion of Separateness, but that book was redeemed by the depth of its characters. So it’s not surprising that the shorter sketches that open this collection are improved upon by the prose poem/novella that closes it: in “Golden Helper II,” a boy in Beijing named Weng watches his father labor over a mechanical device he’s invented to add speed to the tricycle he uses to make vegetable deliveries; when it proves to be a kind of perpetual motion machine that makes Weng fabulously rich, he’s forced to consider how he can use his newfound wealth to help others and deal with his heartache over the married woman he’s fallen for. The story is formatted like a poem, though it generally reads like prose, and the careful, softened language (“his heart like a kite on currents of breath”) and elemental plot support its billing as a satisfying fable.

Van Booy clearly believes there are surprising new ways to write about love. Here, he proves he’s right, occasionally.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-240897-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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