Strong if uneven: the emerging voice of a new talent to watch.



Twelve despairing stories set in a sun-bleached—and bleached-out—Southwest.

In the title piece, young Leigh’s friendship with the pathetic new kid on the block culminates when they expose themselves to the neighborhood pervert, but the story’s real power derives from claustrophobic working-class world Leigh resides in. In “Trapeze,” a slightly older girl, Karen—like Leigh, Catholic and from a big family—is tormented by her gymnastics partner. Karen survives, even prospers, but also hardens in a heartbreaking way. Willa, another tragic survivor, wins a Pyrrhic victory of wills and love against her widower father in “The Shiprock Fair.” Unlike most of the tales, “Blue Fly” is set at the turn of the last century and has a boy at its center, orphan Madison Evers, whose poignant longing for love focuses on his brother’s wife. As the protagonists grow up, the stories become bleaker, many mere snapshots of hopelessness. So the pieceworker of “Where I Work” and the young girl about to go off with a stranger in “Dr. War is a Voice on the Phone” are victims without a chance. “Crazy Yellow” returns to the world of children, but eight-year-old Pete, who lies to his sick mother and ends up alone in the house with yet another of Cummins’s ominous strangers, lacks the survival instincts of Karen or Willa. The richest stories reach beyond victimhood into more complex emotional territory. In “Headhunter,” a young woman on her way to visit her idolized father ends up in a fatal confrontation with another motorist and walks away thinking more about her father than the dead man. In “Bitterwater,” the self-awareness of the narrator’s Navaho husband, who abandons her and ends up in a detox center, is an oddly reassuring surprise. The other piece about marriage, “Starburst,” plumbs the twisted loyalties and understandings between spouses as a policeman who suspects his wife of theft finds himself aroused by her recklessness.

Strong if uneven: the emerging voice of a new talent to watch.

Pub Date: April 7, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-26925-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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