Weissman gathers all that is ugly, vulgar, obscene, scary, disgusting, dangerous, sick, tragic, and sad to create a debut collection that offers a refreshing, nauseating, hilarious, deranged take on human nature. In these stories what at first seems average suddenly, or sometimes stealthily, turns perverse. A man returning home from a a job ``too bland and pitiful'' to name, dreams of the only thing in life he looks forward to—eating his favorite cherry-filled cookie; he breaks down when he discovers that his dog has beaten him to it. A woman who never wanted to be anything but a mother refuses to lose her son to his new wife, so she hires two hoodlums to decapitate her in order to get him back. A young boy gives a detailed account of his day, including church (``I want to go to hell because in hell the dead run around with no clothes on and I can spend all day staring'') and a trip to the museum, where he wanders away from his parents and has sex with a naked girl in a painting. A 16-year-old birthday girl seduces her older brother by talking dirty to him over breakfast. A serial killer who keeps favorite body parts (torsos and heads) in a valise for sexual release, explains how ``killing, cutting up little boys has made me a better person.'' A Christian Scientist reprimands his son for thinking that ``just because his mother is dead we should bury her.'' And a father thanks a dead person for having a car accident and enlivening his family's road trip. While these tales can be too much when read all at once, we come to understand when a man who kills his friends because he loves to eulogize them says ``no matter how pathetic I become it amazes me how there's always room to get worse.'' A blood-and-guts account of the real American Dream.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-85242-330-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

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