A weighty, wonderful reflection on parenthood from an award-winning novelist and Vietnam vet ... profoundly wonderful ... Anyone who thinks O’Brien might do an easy literary backstroke into the lake of instructional memoir is mistaken ... Above all, this is a book about the art of storytelling. Through the prism of fatherhood, O’Brien tells his own stories beautifully.
This loving gift to [O' Brien's] now-teenage sons is sprinkled with literary criticism, writing tips, thoughts on his relationship with his father and philosophy on aging and mortality ... He hopes that when he’s gone his boys will read widely and critically, and that they will write, so he includes instruction — read these books, honor these rules — and essay questions...He also provides a clear look into his own approach to writing fiction and the blending of fiction and fact ... Though he claims not to think much about Vietnam, the war is everywhere in these pages ... In his imagination today, half a century after his war, he digs himself a trench at night, a foxhole, to sleep in.
This forward projection of the men [O'Brien's] sons might become is a moving act of artistry—a bit like the magic he performs for his sons’ enjoyment ... Although the conceit behind the title is understandable, it reads slightly treacly and, ultimately, belies both the scope and quality of the writing contained within. But if at times the writing tends toward the sentimental, Mr. O’Brien explains, 'What if your truest sentence is a sentimental one? Do you fancy it up? Do you sober it up? Do you chill it with literary ice?' ... Mr. O’Brien doesn’t pander; and why should he? It wouldn’t shock me to learn that he’d designed the book’s homely faux-denim-blue cover himself. Much of what he writes is equally unfashionable in our strident age ... This writing about his family feels closest to the bone. It fills an important void in understanding his work, or at least in understanding how Mr. O’Brien thinks about his work. If this does, in fact, prove to be the last thing he writes, it is a touching conclusion to a literary career that has left us with a shelf of enduring novels, memoirs and short stories. Mr. O’Brien, like Hemingway, didn’t necessarily write about war as much as something larger: our shared humanity.