As arch as the lives depicted here are, Lee’s pinpoint accuracy for the right word and perfect tone bring a universal truth...



Stories of transcontinental romance and displacement from New Yorker writer Lee (the novel Sarah Phillips, not reviewed).

As befits its title, Lee’s collection is filled to bursting with interesting women: “Interesting women—are we ever going to be free of them? I meet them everywhere these days, now that there is no longer such a thing as an interesting man.” So opens the title story, as a mother vacationing at a beachside hotel in Thailand with her 12-year-old daughter meets up with one such woman. She’s a fiftysomething divorced adventuress who calls herself Silver (apparently among other names). The story is little more than the mother’s burgeoning fascination with Silver’s wayward manners and aloof disdain for conventionality, but it’s an engaging read nonetheless. There are rarely conclusions in Lee’s tales, which tend to float away on a single, crystallized moment. Her protagonists on the whole are frightfully well-educated, high-bred American women abroad, with maybe a fashionable child or two and a European husband—Italian, usually, and almost always wealthy. A pair of stories, “The Birthday Party” and “About Fog and Cappuccino,” feature interesting women of this sort to whom nothing terribly interesting happens—not a bad thing, since Lee easily enthralls with the smallest description or observation, and her knowledge of this lifestyle is intoxicatingly thorough. But just when you’ve had about enough of Americans just a bit too impressed with how well they’ve adopted Italian customs, she throws out a curveball like “The Golden Chariot,” a theatrical reminiscence of an African-American family’s cross-country vacation ca. 1962, or “Anthropology,” in which a journalist is excoriated by her cousin for an article she wrote on the customs of the remote North Carolina community their family hailed from.

As arch as the lives depicted here are, Lee’s pinpoint accuracy for the right word and perfect tone bring a universal truth to these stories about the—well, the more interesting sex.

Pub Date: April 16, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-50586-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet