A collection of 13 stories offers Adams's (Medicine Men, 1997, etc.) usual blend of intimacy and the good life but also heavily plays the aging card, as story after story returns to the discontents of the middle years and beyond. The title piece is a case in point: aged Benito, a retired physician who used his killing in San Francisco real estate to fund clinics in his native Mexico, is still mourning the recent death of his wife—until shaken from his funk by an invitation to a party, extended by a much younger woman. Although the party is full of the dirty old rich, with some of whom Benito shares a less-than-savory past, he finds hope for the future in the possibility that his date seems to like him. That is, before she reveals that she's affianced to the son of their hostess. Women of a certain age fare little better: in "Old Love Affairs," for instance, a woman "almost old but lively," having gone through several husbands already, has one man kissing her feet while she tries to attract the attention of another. In "The Islands," a woman rebounding from the death of her Berkeley bookseller husband goes to Hawaii with a man interested in her, but does so only a few days after putting her (and her husband's) dear old cat Pink to sleep, so that the trip, tinged with sadness, is ill-fated-once her present company's true feelings about felines becomes known. The most sustained effort here, a series of four linked stories, looks at the tangled emotions of a psychiatrist, his alcoholic pianist wife, and his lover (another psychiatrist) as over time they pair, part, and realign, finding a kind of wisdom but no great joy in the ultimate configuration. With melancholy seeping into them, these plans for renewal fail more often than they succeed, in a pattern artful but distressingly familiar by the last page.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0671036181

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?