The eeriness of these stories grows overly familiar, but there’s no question Morrow knows how to conjure a mood.

THE UNINNOCENT

A set of neo-Gothic tales that seek out the line between sanity and madness in modern suburbia.

The stories in this collection by Morrow (The Diviner’s Tale, 2011, etc.) consistently cultivate a tone of creepy unease. The narrator of “Tsunami” coolly explains why she killed her husband, but it slowly becomes clear to the reader that she’s unaware of the degree to which she’s become undone by a series of tragedies in her life, while her fixation on global catastrophes underscores her loss of perspective. “Ellie’s Idea” gives this slow kind of mental decline a slightly comic pitch: Determined to put her life in order after her husband leaves her, the narrator calls people she feels she’s slighted, which does more harm than good. Adolescents abound in these stories, and it’s easy to see why Morrow finds them appealing—they exemplify a mix of growing confusion about and awareness of the world. The title story focuses on two young sisters who pine for a brother they never had, while “The Enigma of Grover’s Mill” centers on a 15-year-old boy who’s struggling to negotiate the new man in his grandmother’s life and his own awkward sexual awakening. Each story is skillfully turned, though a sameness to the insanity emerges—nearly everybody who loses it is hyperliterate and heartbroken, and ghoulish twists have a way of leaping from the final paragraphs. The best stories play with form: In “(Mis)laid,” parenthetical comments offer retorts to an official narrative about a man taking his estranged wife hostage, and the closing “Lush” smartly alternates narratives between an alcoholic’s grueling path to sobriety and a woman who becomes an unlikely part of his life.

The eeriness of these stories grows overly familiar, but there’s no question Morrow knows how to conjure a mood.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60598-265-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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