Stories that wear their moral outlook on their sleeves.



A debut collection primarily concerned with the societal strictures laid on both whites and blacks.

But not laid with equal weight. Although Nailah bookends her 14 stories with a heavenly prologue and epilogue in which an older brown angel teaches a younger one that skin color is only a small part of human nature, the tales themselves impart a different lesson. In “Trudy,” a white woman accuses a black cashier of pocketing two quarters. “The Ride” shows a white businessman falling under the brief but attitude-changing tutelage of a black cab driver who miraculously undoes years of racist training in the space of their ride to the airport. When the basketball star of “Bucket” is warned by his team’s owner not to attach himself too closely to a certain lady friend, his lack of freedom recalls his family’s years of indebtedness and the shadow of slavery before that. Other pieces focus on black people’s inner struggles. “Four” depicts young kids who typify black male archetypes (crazy misfit, super-athlete, gifted genius, street fighter), portraying the unhappiness that accompanies each and the solace they find singing four-part harmony on a summer evening. The teenager in “French” and the middle-aged businessman in “Inside Out” both unsuccessfully attempt to distance themselves from their African-American roots. Race resides on the periphery, however, when Nailah delves into her other major subject: children burdened with imperfect parents. In “My Side of the Story,” a little boy runs away to find the mother who walked out, but the squalor of her new life brings him up short even before she sends him back to his well-meaning if distracted father. An even younger child pays a “Sunday Visit” to her mother, imprisoned for the death of the girl’s baby brother; the facts of the story remain murky, but the daughter’s neediness is heart-wrenching.

Stories that wear their moral outlook on their sleeves.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-50293-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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