Di Benedetto’s view of the world is gloomy, his writing precise and poetic. It’s a winning combination.

NEST IN THE BONES

Collection of stories by the newly rediscovered Argentinean writer Di Benedetto (1922-86), who blends the fantastic sensibilities of Borges and Kafka with the profound pessimism of Dostoyevsky.

A father, wealthy and disconnected, brings a palm tree to his estate and a monkey to go along with it. The monkey takes refuge in the tree and “only came down to scrounge or eat whatever food some kindly soul laid out at the foot of his dwelling.” The man’s son reckons that although he doesn’t have a palm tree to call his own, he is a monkey himself—and moreover, one who has made in the palm tree of his mind room for a whole flock of “blissful sparrows, canaries, and partridges.” So goes the title story, taken from Di Benedetto's first collection, Animal World, published in 1953. Later collections shed animal metaphors for more straightforward depictions of people who are unfailingly put upon, men and women who talk past one another in landscapes of “withered leaves gone brown, soon to rot,” who venture into the mosquito-infested jungle for no good reason except to satisfy the hunger of the inhabitants: “if those tiny beasts had a soul and their souls were inclined to vengeance,” thinks the adventurous journalist at the center of the beguiling story “Orthopterans,” from a collection published in 1983, “they will feed on me as soon as I fall still.” So they do. One of the most memorable stories here involves a Bartleby-like refusal on the part of an itinerant gaucho to take work that does not suit his dignity, an identification with the oppressed that explains why Di Benedetto should have run afoul of Argentina’s military junta in the 1970s—but that does not explain why his work should have been overlooked for so long, a gap this collection of short fiction helps remedy.

Di Benedetto’s view of the world is gloomy, his writing precise and poetic. It’s a winning combination.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-914671-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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