Women and girls often overlooked by history are given compelling voices in this collection.

BRIDES IN THE SKY

In unsentimental but intimate detail, a collection of stories peels back stereotypes about the lives of women in the past. From the Old West to the 1960s, female lives that might be deemed ordinary are revealed as rich and complex.

Holladay (The Deer in the Mirror, 2013, etc.) focuses in these eight stories and one novella on girls and women trying to find their places in a world that often treats them as insignificant. A few of the stories have contemporary settings, but most take place decades or more than a century in the past. In spare but evocative prose, Holladay skillfully and subtly re-creates those earlier times while making clear their parallels to the present. The novella, A Thousand Stings, is the story of 8-year-old Shirley, striving to make sense of the impact of the 1967 Summer of Love on her small town, from a hippie minister who upends the family church to the blossoming of her older sister. In "Operator," set in 1954, a young woman working as a telephone operator and hoping to marry up tells us the surprising tale of what happens when she takes it upon herself to respond to an emergency call about a violent incident. Some of the best of these stories are set in the American West. In the title story, in 1854, young sisters Kate and Olivia sell their parents' Virginia farm after marrying a pair of brothers who persuade them to join a wagon train headed for Oregon—a harrowing journey with unexpected consequences. "Comanche Queen" is based on the true story of Cynthia Parker, who was captured by Comanches as a child, found 24 years later in 1860, and returned (with one of her children) to her white family. Parker spent the rest of her life trying to get back to the Comanches; Holladay tells her heartbreaking story from the point of view of her well-intentioned but benighted white relatives. "Interview with Etta Place, Sweetheart of the Sundance Kid" is just that, a fictional talk with the mysterious woman who was the companion of outlaw Harry Longabaugh. Holladay paints her at age 92, salty and humorous, recounting a startlingly different version of the deaths of Longabaugh and Robert Parker, aka Butch Cassidy. In a line that speaks for all the women in these stories, Place beseeches her interviewer, "Write it with me in the middle, not off to the side."

Women and girls often overlooked by history are given compelling voices in this collection.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8040-1204-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Swallow Press/Ohio Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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