An unconventional set of tales set in delightfully eccentric realities.

IN THE GARDEN OF MISTRESS BLOOM

A debut collection of short sci-fi fiction that explores time and space with mischievous humor.

In the title story of Curbo’s playful, intriguing compilation, Larches, a viceroy who presides over the celestial garden of Mistress Bloom, discovers a “barbed and repulsive” artichokelike globe that he recognizes as an “avatar” of the faraway planet Earth. The bloom and the planet are deeply connected, so Larches carefully protects the plant from the gardener’s blade and the Mistress’ own shears, and he hatches a plan to seed other blooms in the garden. “The 19th Frustration” finds the hapless John Y. Lipman applying for a job as a “futurologist.” As he enters his workplace—a building in which time is not linear and whose appearance keeps bewilderingly changing—he’s told that he must first witness the destruction of the city of Paris and then prevent it. In “VanLines – The Driver,” the operator of an employee van pool attempts to avoid a disaster by taking passengers back in time, and they become scavengers in a prehistoric world. “Coyote Tower” relates the adventures of two spies whose loving relationship is their only constant in an unstable world. Harold Brayner, the protagonist of “Memory of Glass,” is physically trapped by age and disability as he watches his memories play out beyond the glass wall of his kitchen. Curbo’s unpredictable narratives of parallel worlds and time slippage are strengthened by his idiosyncratic and effervescent prose; he evocatively describes Mistress Bloom’s feet, for instance, as “clops…shod in skins of black-striped winter squash,” and one of the time-traveling commuters in “Vanlines” is said to “giggle a grin.” Sometimes the quirkiness feels forced and random, as when one of the spy’s supervisors in “Coyote Tower” tosses words “like watermelon seeds” toward his listener. Also, the short story format doesn’t allow for very much development of alternate universes. However, readers who are willing to think nonlinearly may enjoy this romp through unfamiliar worlds.

An unconventional set of tales set in delightfully eccentric realities.

Pub Date: July 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4975-8655-0

Page Count: 154

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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