An impressive compendium of an important career—Mazza’s work shines.

CHARLATAN

A chronological compilation of Mazza’s (Something Wrong With Her, 2013, etc.) substantial body of short fiction, spanning the years 1979 to 2013.

Adulterers, introverts, photographers, and people who fish; dog lovers, mediocre musicians, mediocre parents, people on the fringes or moving toward the fringes; people who are pretty sure the fringes are all there is—it's as hard to qualify a typical Mazza character as it is to qualify a typical Mazza story except to say that they're not typical. Using forms that disrupt or interrupt (the he said, she said columns of text in “Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?”; the inset blocks of type running through “Our Time Is Up”), Mazza’s stories explore the interstices between desire and satiation; they roil with queasy fever-dream intensity; they intuit the power of sex, of gender, of domination but neither condemn nor condone its abuses. In this insightfully edited collection, Mazza’s well-earned reputation for guileless depictions of sexuality and for characters who are complicated by their obsessive introversion is on display, as is her equally well-earned reputation for critical insight into the nonbinaries, absences, and mobile social dynamics of post-feminist thought. However, far from being a paean to the author’s role as a scholar, critic, or polarizing auteur within what can loosely be defined as experimental fiction, Mazza’s newest work stands first and foremost as a supremely accomplished body of individual artistry. Again and again, what this collection showcases is Mazza’s rarest of talents: the ability to leave judgment out of exploration, to create characters whose desires may enact violence (both emotional and physical) but whose existence is not an examination of how society “should” react to that violence. Rather, the only societies in these stories are the ones the characters make for themselves. Mazza stays out of it. The reader’s preconceptions should as well.

An impressive compendium of an important career—Mazza’s work shines.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1945883-06-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Curbside Splendor

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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