Smart, engaging and often deadpan funny.

THIRD CLASS SUPERHERO

A playful experimentalist probes the limits of fiction in this debut collection.

The post-collegiate braininess of many of Yu’s stories is like the music of the Talking Heads, making the familiar seem off-kilter. Among his mathematically audacious fictional strategies, “Problems for Self-Study” casts itself as a series of algebraic equations that attempt to account for the inevitable arc of a marriage, and “32.05864991%” introduces the field of “emotional statistics” and the precision of probability indicated by the word “maybe.” There’s a reversal of Kafka’s Metamorphosis in “Realism,” a story suggesting that what’s commonly accepted as literary realism is unrealistic convention. “The Man Who Became Himself” also takes a Kafkaesque turn in its comic examination of the essence of identity, when a man starts thinking of himself as “he” rather than “I,” as if he is somehow inhabiting the body of another. The closing “Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction” may or may not be autobiographical, may or may not be fiction, and its narrator, “I,” who reads and writes stories, may or may not be the author. In one of the most metaphorically compelling stories here, “Florence” takes the form of science fiction, set a million years from now, when centuries pass in the blink of an eye, and each human exists isolated on his own planet, communicating across the void. The title story might well be the weakest, though the cover it inspires could appeal to the expanding readership for graphic novels, as Yu details the plight of “Moisture Man,” whose powers fail to make the superhero cut. Within these 11 stories, Yu uses language to suggest what language cannot express, as he deals with themes such as the nature of distance, the essence of time and the illusion of self for readers whose attention span has been conditioned more by video games than classic novels.

Smart, engaging and often deadpan funny.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-15-603081-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more