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TALES OF THE NEW WORLD

Murray’s writing is chilly, but she is astute about the addictive nature of adventure and the unnerving relationship between...

In 10 stories by Murray (Forgery, 2007, etc.), historical figures adventure into new worlds largely because they feel excluded in their old ones.

“Fish,” practically a novella, introduces and lays out the theme of outsider-turned-explorer in the story of Mary Kingsley. A meekly subservient Victorian daughter, she barely leaves her house until she is 29. Then using her health as an excuse, she travels to the Canary Islands. Soon she’s hiking into the African interior where no Brit has gone before. Murray focuses on Kingsley’s interior life, the fairies that bedevil her as she defies convention. The stories that follow seldom display the same emotional complexity, although “His Actual Mark” comes close: In old age Edward Jon Eyre tries to reconcile the disconnect between his 1840 trek across Australia alone with a young aborigine, to whom he owes his survival, and his controversial fame for suppressing rebellion among Jamaican blacks 25 years later. “Paradise” probes the identity of Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy, and by extension other monster leaders from Pol Pot to Idi Amin to Hitler. The monsters of “The Solace of Monsters” are both whales and the whalers who hunt and fear them. Buccaneer William Dampier sails around the world three times, sometimes with the British government’s blessing. Readers may wonder if the young Jesuit who becomes Dr. Murray and travels to the Far East is the author’s father, but the story “Periplus” feels more philosophic than personal. Elsewhere, a self-proclaimed Venetian scholar sailing with Magellan chronicles the explorer’s wrongheaded choices even as he falls in love with him. A seer helplessly foretells the destruction of the Aztecs by the Spanish invasion. “Balboa” is a pig farmer escaping debt. And finally while visiting “On Sakhalin” and taking a fake census of the penal colony, Chekhov represents the storywriter as explorer and outsider both.

Murray’s writing is chilly, but she is astute about the addictive nature of adventure and the unnerving relationship between the explorer and those he explores/hunts.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8021-7083-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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