RUMORS FROM THE LOST WORLD

Moving easily between blue-collar types and Social Register summer people, New Age dancers and Old World immigrants, underground poets and Elvis freaks, newcomer Davis (coeditor with Michael C. White, of the American Fiction series) demonstrates an impressive range in this debut collection of 12 stories. The pieces fall roughly into two groups: Those dealing with problem relationships between spouses or lovers, and those in which characters work to recover the past. The relationship stories capture the edgy back-and-forth of couples in crisis, whether Bruce and Lydia in ``Incoming Rounds,'' Hugh and Deb in ``Raccoons,'' or Annie and Doug in ``Sidewalks White Like Bones,'' though their obsessions (Bruce's Vietnam thing, Annie's immersion in New Age culture) sometimes extrude awkwardly. Where Davis comes into his own is with his stories of death, disappearance and loss; here the survivors try to reconnect with the past. In the moving ``AWOL,'' Leon, a Chicago roofer, struggling to make sense of his son's desertion in the Philippines, courageously keeps on keeping on; Sidney, in ``Waiting for Ruth,'' stubbornly maintains his vigil for his drowned lover; teenage Diane, racked with pain over the death of big sister Melinda, escapes into fantasy in ``Growing Wings.'' Those are losing battles; the victories belong to the narrator of ``Shooting the Moon,'' who restores his dead grandfather, a feisty nonconformist, to the family pantheon (a tender portrait, clear as a bell), and the mother in ``Ramparts Street'' (the collection's standout), who celebrates, at her daughter's behest, the rout of two federal agents by her Italian immigrant parents in New Orleans in 1942. Here past and present are seamlessly conflated in a triumph of technique and sensibility. Davis's sure touch with parents and children reflects his greatest strength—an acute sense of what keeps us all afloat in the sea of time.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-89823-142-6

Page Count: 113

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

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: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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