Sharply realized fiction located in a vibrant community.

A novella and seven stories that shine a light—sometimes harsh and glaring—on love and family relationships in the Hispanic community of El Paso.

The title gives its name to the novella and introduces us to the kinds of complexity that will shape all the pieces in the collection. Moníca Montoya, the narrator, finds herself pregnant, but not with her husband Sal’s child. The father, ironically, is a man named Regie, whose son has been bullying Moníca and Sal’s son, Gabe. Moníca goes to Ana Jurado, an herb specialist whose tea is supposed to create a “natural” abortion, but she remains skeptical that the brew will work. And if this isn’t enough on her plate, she’s also dealing with what to do with the ashes of her father, Vicente, a seductive wastrel who somehow balanced having two families, one in Mexico and one in El Paso. Moníca uses her half sister, Bernie Gomez, as a confidante during these personal trials, which include Moníca’s continued sexual involvement with Regie as well as with a younger man. And then Sal is suspended from work for sexual harassment—or for what he terms “flirting.” Although all the plot elements border on soap opera—or perhaps telenovela—Granados has an ear for crisp dialogue and particularly for engaging opening sentences (“There is no way to look sexy carrying a fifty-quart pot of tamales” or “Every time Jim Burkett caressed Anita Guerra’s arm she had to suppress her desire to flinch”). And while the stories can be dark, the characters remain fundamentally defiant and hopeful despite distressing odds.

Sharply realized fiction located in a vibrant community.

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8263-5792-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017



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



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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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