A magnetic collection that must be read over and over.

Short stories take readers deep into the mind of a queer woman.

Leslie’s (The Things I Heard About You, 2014, etc.) collection follows Soma as she experiences the tumultuous high school years, the disappointment of unsatisfying jobs, the loss of close friends, and the heartbreak that ensues from a destructive and devastating breakup. “Only speak to yourself in a language only you can understand, and then you can put it away forever,” says the narrator in “The Initials.” It’s true that Leslie’s language has a certain precariousness as it oscillates delicately between poetic diction and traditional fiction prose. Her sentences simply capture a feeling or an event with little to no narrative context for readers to anchor themselves in. In the two tour de force stories, “The Person You Want to See” and “Self Help Liturgy,” Soma goes through the motions of grieving the loss of a relationship on social media and the loss of a close friend in real life. Juxtaposed, these two stories paint a portrait of the anxieties of contemporary people, constantly struggling between social media personae and real-life interactions. “What kind of person avoids a memorial on Facebook?” she asks. Or, “Every day parts of her shift and tighten. Parts of her slacken. Soma presses herself until her bones bloom, her arms arc and make more room for more blood. There are gulfs and channels in her body, open spaces she has never known before. She enters them.” This inner struggle Soma faces feels quintessentially human though also anchored in the semiotics of character-making. In a sense, Soma is herself an oscillation, moving between the poetic and the fictional, constantly evolving, constantly making words swerve in countless directions, and captivating readers one sentence at a time.

A magnetic collection that must be read over and over.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77166-419-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bookthug

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018



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



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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