The twelve stories in Bukoski’s (Children of Strangers, 1993, etc.) third collection portray life among the Polish-Americans of Superior, Wisconsin. Anyone who’s ever driven through the Midwest and noticed how polkas supplant country & western music on the car radio once you get near the old industrial towns of the Great Lakes will wonder why there isn—t more fiction like Bukoski’s. All of his characters are immigrants or the children of immigrants, most with a living memory of the Old Country, and each seems adept at the art of confession. The narrator of “Pesthouse,” for example, recalls her merchant seaman father’s long absence during WWII and his increasingly unbalanced obsession with Jews as the source of her scarlet fever shortly after his return. “The Absolution of Hedda Borski” is a dying woman’s account of her taking in an abandoned child to compensate for the miscarriage she suffered as a young woman. “The World at War” describes the generational conflict between Antek Drabowski and his son Eddie: Antek, who served in the Coast Guard during WWII, disapproves of his son’s involvement in the “police action” of Vietnam. “Bird of Passage” is a comic tale of an elderly widower’s attempts to find a new wife (—He feared, when he assumed the “male-dominant position,” that his upper plate might fall out on her despite the Poli-Grip—). The collection’s best piece, though, is “The Tools of Ignorance,” the bittersweet memoirs of Augie (the “Kielbasa Kid—) Wyzinski. Now a bartender at the aptly named Heartbreak Hotel, Augie started out as a ballplayer for local teams and was eventually signed up by the San Francisco Giants, only to end washing out in the minor leagues. Elegiac and restrained, the piece sets the tone for the entire volume. Nicely paced, vivid, and almost obsessive in its attention to a specific locale: Bukoski’s work opens up a world that deserves more spectators.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-87074-434-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet