A generous, invaluable volume that collects the 53 stories published during his 40-year career by a master of both realism and surrealism, a writer who begins to look more and more like one of the very best modern American writers. This differs from the earlier Stories (1983) in including the total contents of such acclaimed (and award-winning) collections as The Magic Barrel, as well as several early efforts (of which the forgotten "Armistice" is especially impressive), and a scattering of others retrieved from the magazines in which they originally appeared. An unmistakable voice, terse and ironical while simultaneously colloquial urban-Jewish, sounds throughout these rich tales, which manage to be remarkably varied despite their emphasis on Malamud's trademark themes of victimization and loneliness. The exceptions are several sardonically amusing portrayals of the scapegrace flawed artist Arthur Fidelman, and the late, complex "fictive biographies" of such subjects as Virginia Woolf and Alma Mahler ("In Kew Gardens" and "Alma Redeemed," respectively) that seem to have developed out of his 1979 novel, Dublin's Lives. But the essential Malamud is found in his moving studies of the claims of charity and the consequences of acknowledging or denying one's kinship with others ("Idiots First," "Take Pity"), and more specifically of Jews unable to escape their heritage and its responsibilities ("Man in the Drawer," "The Last Mohican"). On another level, the imperatives of belonging are ingeniously rendered in such celebrated fantasies as "Angel Levine," "The Jewbird," and "The Silver Crown," an overlooked story that is one of Malamud's greatest. Even readers who think they know his work well may be surprised at how powerfully some of the lesser known stories continue to resonate ("The Bill" and the moving "Rembrandt's Hat" are exemplary). A landmark book that belongs on the same shelf with the collected stories of John Cheerer and Issac Bashevis Singer. "Believe me, there are Jews everywhere," intones a representative Malamud character. Believe me, we believe him.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-12639-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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.


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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