This quick read is a mixed bag of dark, disturbing stories, with a couple of literary gems.

MY STALIN DOLL

7 STORIES

A collection of contemporary short stories with some touches of magic realism.

Anger seems to be the dominant theme running through the seven stories in Crane’s debut collection. Readers are treated to angry employees like the protagonists of “The Little Flower of the Newsroom” and the haunting “The Last Day is Better than the First”; characters who seem unnaturally predisposed to anger like those in the title story and “The Judgement of the Light”; and a trio of angry old ladies in “The Sleeper Awakes,” “The Ghost” and “Return of the Prodigal.” Women in general come across as a mean-spirited, conniving, murderous group who are only slightly redeemed by the more goodhearted women of the final story, “The Judgment of the Light.” Crane produces spot-on descriptions like that of an old man’s body that was “as thin and shapeless as a can of Pringles” and clever turns of phrase such as “[h]e’d learned to live with it, the way people learn to live with leprosy or a criminal record,” but at times the phrases are clunky, like the narrator’s description of his life in the title story as “an accretion of uninteresting contingencies” or the explanation from “The Ghost” that “their moral calculus conferred upon father and son a right to unrestrained verbal vengeance.” Tales like “The Little Flower of the Newsroom,” with its clever title and unexpected conclusion, and the haunting glimpse into the mind of a mass murderer in “The Last Day is Better than the First,” make this slim volume worthy of further exploration. Readers will likely have more difficulty identifying with the mentally unbalanced first-person narrator of the title story and the angry young protagonist of “The Judgement of the Light.” Also difficult to identify with are Mrs. Marion from “The Ghost” and the elderly woman in “The Sleeper Awakes,” both of whom are filled with hatred for their daughters-in-law, though it’s possible that, based on the images only she can see on a static-filled television channel, the latter may be justified in her disapproval.

This quick read is a mixed bag of dark, disturbing stories, with a couple of literary gems.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456444020

Page Count: 145

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

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