Cover image for Good trouble : stories / Joseph O'Neill.
Title:
Good trouble : stories / Joseph O'Neill.
ISBN:
9781524747350
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [2018]
Physical Description:
157 pages ; 21 cm.
Contents:
Pardon Edward Snowden -- The trusted traveler -- The world of cheese -- The referees -- Promises, promises -- The death of Billy Joel -- Ponchos -- The poltroon husband -- Goose -- The mustache in 2010 -- The sinking of the Houston.
Abstract:
As the first wave of pioneers travel westward to settle the American frontier, two women discover their inner strength when their lives are irrevocably changed by the hardship of the wild west in The Removes , a historical novel from New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Tatjana Soli. Spanning the years of the first great settlement of the West, The Removes tells the intertwining stories of fifteen-year-old Anne Cummins, frontierswoman Libbie Custer, and Libbie's husband, the Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer. When Anne survives a surprise attack on her family's homestead, she is thrust into a difficult life she never anticipated--living among the Cheyenne as both a captive and, eventually, a member of the tribe. Libbie, too, is thrown into a brutal, unexpected life when she marries Custer. They move to the territories with the U.S.Army, where Libbie is challenged daily and her worldview expanded: the pampered daughter of a small-town judge, she transforms into a daring camp follower. But when what Anne and Libbie have come to know--self-reliance, freedom, danger--is suddenly altered through tragedy and loss, they realize how indelibly shaped they are by life on the treacherous, extraordinary American plains. With taut, suspenseful writing, Tatjana Soli tells the exhilarating stories of Libbie and Anne, who have grown like weeds into women unwilling to be restrained by the strictures governing nineteenth-century society. The Removes is a powerful, transporting novel about the addictive intensity and freedom of the American frontier.
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Summary

Summary

A masterly collection of eleven stories about the way we live now from the best-selling author of Netherland .

From bourgeois facial-hair trends to parental sleep deprivation, Joseph O'Neill closely observes the mores of his characters, whose vacillations and second thoughts expose the mysterious pettiness, underlying violence, and, sometimes, surprising beauty of ordi­nary life in the early twenty-first century. A lonely wedding guest talks to a goose; two poets struggle over whether to participate in a "pardon Edward Snowden" verse petition; a cowardly husband lets his wife face a possible intruder in their home; a potential co-op renter in New York City can't find anyone to give him a character reference.

On the surface, these men and women may be in only mild trouble, but in these perfectly made, fiercely modern stories O'Neill reminds us of the real, secretly political consequences of our internal monologues. No writer is more incisive about the strange world we live in now; the laugh-out-loud vulnerability of his people is also fodder for tears.


Author Notes

JOSEPH O'NEILL is the author of the novels The Dog, Netherland (which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award), The Breezes, and This Is the Life. He has also written a family history, Blood-Dark Track . He lives in New York City and teaches at Bard College.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his first story collection, O'Neill (The Dog; Netherland) tackles the politics of friendship, facial hair, petitions, and spousal duties, with solid results. In "The Sinking of the Houston," a father uses GPS tracking to hunt down his son's stolen cell phone, only to be distracted in his pursuits by an elderly neighbor's stories of the Bay of Pigs invasion. "Goose" sees a man hopscotch across Italy before attending his college friend's second wedding. In "The Death of Billy Joel," a quartet of golfing buddies head to Florida for a weekend of celebration, only to ultimately question the value of travel and escapism. O'Neill's narratives frequently wander between ideas and end without definitive resolution. When this works, as in "The Mustache in 2010"-a tale of shaving, social history, and mindfulness-the reader is delightfully tossed about. Yet other stories, such as "The Trusted Traveler," concerning a former student who visits his professor's home once a year, never quite achieve deep resonance and sputter in their final acts. O'Neill's writing is always inventive, and despite occasional missteps, the collection will please fans of quirky short fiction. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

OVER THE PAST DECADE, the appealingly versatile Joseph O'Neill has been the poster child for several visions of what fiction can be. His novel "Netherland," with its evocative and slightly mannered descriptions of a New York cricket team, was taken up by Zadie Smith as an example of what the novel could do and, perhaps, no longer needed to do; Smith took issue with O'Neill's lush prose, although she might just as easily have objected to his idealization of its central cast, a ragtag team of immigrants seemingly handpicked to deliver a Meaningful Realization to its protagonist, Hans van den Boek. "Netherlands" was built in the tradition of E. M. Forster, and it saddened Smith that we couldn't quite manage to move beyond him, perhaps to something dressed in a looser tie. In the years since, O'Neill has been writing fiction primarily in the tradition of Dostoyevsky or Nabokov. The stories in his new story collection, "Good Trouble," revolve around various unreliable, slightly odious men, the sort of people unlikely to be on the receiving end of a warmhearted learning experience and, indeed, unlikely to learn anything at all. Take Jack Bail in "The Trusted Traveler," who materializes once a year to inconvenience his former professor and whose final dinner party with his host dissolves, over chocolate cake and berries, into a rant against his I.V.F. clinic. ("They're literally holding my sperm hostage.") Or Rob Karlsson in "The Referees," who has made a sufficient hash of his life that no friends will stand as his personal reference for a Prospect Heights co-op. Or, in "The World of Cheese," Breda Morrisey's husband, who leaves her for a woman with whom he can more comfortably discuss the smell and texture of lady parts. On a sentence level, O'Neill's stories are playful, evocative, intoxicated with possibility. By any other measure, they're disappointingly formulaic. His protagonists rant lyrically for 10 or 15 pages, consider taking a grand action but don't pursue it, and eventually, when O'Neill decides the story is finished, have an epiphanic experience triggered by the subtle gradations in gravel, clouds or plant life. He works in a Nabokovian tradition of eloquence, in which the most artistically sensitive people are also the most socially stunted and brutish. In "Pardon Edward Snowden," a poet named Mark McCain agonizes over whether to endorse some civically minded doggerel ("Putin" rhymes with "boot in"). For days, he considers his artistic purity. Then he looks outside and appreciates some roofs. Like many of the stories in this collection, it suffers from a near-total absence of stakes. And yet the stakelessness is the point. Taken as a whole, the stories in this short, acrobatic collection - all previously published, mostly in The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine - are a credit to O'Neill's formal discipline and range. "The Poltroon Husband," as the title immediately suggests, mimics Henry James. "Promises, Promises," a very short piece about an imaginary bylaw regulating the beach-going population, is dedicated to the memory of David Foster Wallace. O'Neill resembles a very talented craftsman working in a master's atelier, each different style an argument for the continued vitality of the tradition he works in. As the poet in his first story, trying his hand at academic writing, marvels: "Who knew that writing this stuff would be such fun? The voice - at once pedantic and forceful, and strangely aged and pampered - was the most fun of all." In recent years, O'Neill has become more Jamesian, creating odious bros whose ornate volubility allows them to be as slippery as they like, without ever really doing much. Their stories just sit there, voluptuous and tame, like a mink stole prettily arranged. The narrator of "Ponchos" reflects tellingly on "The Purple Rose of Cairo," in which Jeff Daniels ("an archaeologist embarking on a 'madcap Manhattan weekend' ") "repeatedly proclaims his intention to consume a cocktail that he never gets around to drinking." O'Neill's characters float through a world whose modest pleasures are theoretically attainable but never, in practice, tangible. You want O'Neill to get into more trouble than his title promises, more than he will allow. O'Neill's stories create a world of modest pleasures, theoretically attainable but never tangible. JAMIE fisher, a freelance writer and translator, has recently completed a novel.


Library Journal Review

In his typically sharp, smart language, the author of the PEN/Faulkner Award-winning Netherland shows us characters undone by contemporary life, not grandly but in the small, essential ways that define our culture. When poet Mark McCain receives a request from another, younger poet to sign a "poetition"-a petition cum poem asking President Barack Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, he's outraged at the misunderstanding of what poetry really is and, in the story's brief, reflective passages, explains its meaning before vowing "Never give in"-to philistinism of every stripe. A professor who cannot find a way to persuade an oblivious former student to cease his yearly visits finds the problem finally solving itself, even as he and his wife entertain each other with titles for memoirs of the fancy life they haven't led. Deserted by an in-second-childhood husband who says she's not passionate and a tetchy son who's banned her from his own family for being too distant-she was trying not to intrude on a conjugal fight-fiftyish Breda makes tentative steps toward liberating herself. -VERDICT Absorbing reading sophisticates will love. [See Prepub Alert, 12/11/17.] © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Sinking of the Houston     When I became a parent of young children I also became a purposeful and relentless opportunist of sleep. In fact sleep functioned as that period's subtle denominator. I found myself capable of taking a nap just about any­where, even when standing in a subway car or riding an escalator. I wasn't the only one. Out and about, I spot­ted drowsy or dozing people everywhere; and I realized that a kind of mechanized mass somnambulism is an essential component of modern life; and I gained a better understanding of the siesta and the snooze and the death wish.   Then my three boys grew big--grew from toddling alarmists into wayward urban doofuses neurologically unequipped to perceive the risks incidental to their teen­age lives. Several nights a week I lie awake in bed until the front door has sighed shut behind every last one of them. Even then, even once they're all safely home, there are disquieting goings-on. Objects are put in motion, to frightening sonic effect. A creaking cupboard hinge is an SOS. A spoon in a cereal bowl is a tocsin.   The key point is that I no longer have the ability to nap at will--to recover, in nickels of unconsciousness, a lost hypnotic legacy. A round-the-clock jitteriness prevails.   As a consequence, the concept of peace and quiet has assumed an italicized personal importance. Who can say, of course, what "peace and quiet" means? It certainly doesn't denote the experience produced by being by one­self. I can offer only a subjective definition: the state of affairs in which (1) one finds oneself at home; (2) there are people around whom one wants to have around, not least because it means that one doesn't have to worry about where else they might be; (3) one sits in one's arm­chair; and (4) the people around leave one alone.   The phenomenon of the Dad Chair needs no inves­tigation here. I'll just state that there came a moment when the whole business of taking care of the guys--of their need to be woken up, clothed, fed, transported, coached, cleaned, bedded down, constantly kept safe and constantly captained--altered me. The alteration made me identify with the shipman, working in high and howling winds in the Bay of Biscay, who dreams of the bathtubs of La Rochelle. This led me to buy a black leatherette armchair and to designate it as my haven. I've got to say, it has worked out pretty well.   But of late, the fifteen-year-old, the middle son, has taken to disturbing me. I'll be sitting there, doing stuff on my laptop, when he'll approach and pull off my noise-canceling headphones.   "What is it?" I ask him.   "Have you heard of the Duvaliers?"   "What?"   "The Duvaliers. The dictators of Haiti."   "What about them?"   "There's two Duvaliers," he says. "There's the father and there's the son. Do you know that they used rape to punish their political opponents?"   "What?"   He says, "They--"   "I don't want to hear about it. I know all about the Duvaliers. They were horrible. I know all about it."   "But, Dad, I'll bet you don't know. There was one time--"   "Stop harassing me!" I shout. "Stop bothering me with this stuff! Leave me alone! I lived through it! I don't want to discuss it!"   He answers, in his mild way, "You didn't exactly live through it. You just heard about it."   I understand that my son is trying to get a precise sense of the world he is about to enter--the wide world. I understand that this can be a difficult process. I under­stand that it's a good thing that he comes to me with these questions, which do him nothing but credit, and that these are golden moments that must be savored. I understand all that.   Note that my fifteen-year-old is a distinct case but not a special one. His two brothers are the same. Each, in his own way, threatens the peace and the quiet.   "Where is East Timor?" this particular son asks.   "Look it up," I say.   His voice has arrived from his bedroom, where he's lying in his bunk bed, in a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms and skateboarding socks, reading his phone. Sometimes he'll come out of the bedroom and sit on the arm of my armchair and cast an eye over my screen while he talks. Which is exasperating. What I do online is my business.   He calls out, "Do you know who Charles Taylor is?"   I'm not answering that.   He comes out of the brothers' room, which is what we call the space in which the three boys are cooped up. "He was a guerilla leader. In Liberia. He had an army made up of children."   "Stop right there," I say.   My son stops where he is, because he thinks I'm tell­ing him that he should stop advancing toward me. From a distance of about three yards he says, "He made the children do some really bad things. Really, really bad things. He made them shoot their own parents. I think Taylor may have been the worst of them all."   I remove my reading glasses and look him in the eye. " C'est la vie, " I tell him. Excerpted from Good Trouble: Stories by Joseph O'Neill All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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