A colorful, somewhat wicked collection of stories that are touching as often as they are laugh-out-loud funny.


Thirty-four wry bits of metafiction from the eternally ironic Klosterman (Chuck Klosterman X, 2017, etc.).

Billed as “Fictional Nonfiction,” in this we get more echoes of the creative process behind Gen X icon Klosterman’s two absurdist novels (Downtown Owl, 2008, and The Visible Man, 2011) than we do from his tart essays and meandering nonfiction. It kicks off with an interesting scenario in “Raised in Captivity,” in which a nominally successful dude is presented with an existential crisis when he discovers a puma in an airplane bathroom. It’s a bit worrisome that the collection is absolutely laced with confessions—the perp being interviewed in “Experience Music Project,” the dying father in “To Live in the Hearts of Those We Leave Behind Is Not to Die, Except That It Actually Is,” and the guy who swears he didn’t kill those people in “Execute Again,” to name just a few—but they’re acidly funny. Even stranger: The serial attacker in “Cat Person,” who...rubs cats on people, is drawn in glorious noir-tinged prose. Klosterman not only excels at character and dialogue, as the people and conversations in the book seem very organic, but he’s also keen on setting up offbeat scenarios, which often drift toward the bizarre. In “Every Day Just Comes and Goes,” a regular Joe finds himself arguing with a time traveler. There’s a surreal conversation about magic in “Tricks Aren’t Illusions.” A terribly polite housewife hires an overeager hit man in “Not That Kind of Person.” Elsewhere, Klosterman savages political correctness in “Toxic Actuality,” conjures up a band with a hit single that’s superracist in “Blizzard of Summer,” and imagines a death cult in Silicon Valley in “What About the Children.” Armed with everything from existential crises to a robot dinosaur, there’s really something for everyone in this crisp collection of imaginative snippets.

A colorful, somewhat wicked collection of stories that are touching as often as they are laugh-out-loud funny.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1792-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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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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