Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

UNNATURAL HABITATS & OTHER STORIES

Debut author Mitchell offers a collection of seven Arkansas-based tales that explore the somber sides of marriage, familial relationships, and everyday life.

In the opening story, “Animal Lovers,” a woman named Dee insists on taking custody of the dogs, Ralph and Mickey, when she divorces her husband, Carter. But when the canines’ behavioral issues escalate, she thinks that she might be better off without them, after all. Mitchell’s book is filled with characters relentlessly finding flaws in themselves and others—including flaws that aren’t there. For example, Tonya in “Pyramid Schemes” is certain that her spouse, Randy, disapproves of her weight, although he’s given no indication of that. Likewise, in “Retreat,” Layton suspects that his co-worker Gary is one of the three baseball-bat–wielding assailants who beat him in a dark parking lot months before, though he has no proof of this. These imperfect characters are continually intriguing, as is the conflicted protagonist who robs a bank in “This Trailer is Free,” who’s unquestionably sympathetic. However, these stories aren’t entirely humorless. High schooler Libby, for instance, narrates “Not from Here” in a delightfully blunt voice; regarding Ronnie, a bus driver she befriends, she notes, “I think sometimes that he might make a good husband, but I’m not in love with him and I don’t expect I will be.” The author’s stark writing style examines details with an unflinching eye, much as the characters do, and the occasional moments of violence are haunting. The stories are linked not only by their common location, but also by recurring players, which allows for unexpected, additional character development. For instance, Dee returns in “Retreat,” which further delves into a relationship that was mentioned in her earlier tale.

Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9988014-6-9

Page Count: 190

Publisher: WTAW Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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