A third collection from the ``postfeminist'' author whose previous works (Dog People, 1997, etc.) have established her as one of the quirkier voices on the scene today. As an editor of the Chick-Lit anthologies, Mazza has demonstrated great sensitivity to women's voices and women's cares, and these elements are certainly not overlooked here. Some of the pieces, like ``The Cram-It-In Method'' (which portrays a rather unworldly girl's preparations for her wedding to an even callower boy), examine feminine obsessions with men and families in tones that would be perfectly at home in Seventeen. Others, like ``The Career,'' which describes in a frank, harsh tone a naive teenager's extended affair with a brutish married man, will probably end up in one of Andrea Dworkin's footnotes somewhere along the line. ``The Something Bad'' follows a ``coupla-white-chicks-talking'' mode, in which three friends spend an afternoon ranting at each other about how their husbands have all turned out to be child molesters, and when will their boyfriends ever leave their wives, anyhow? Some of the works read more like fragments than stories: ``Dog & Girlfriend'' is the interior monologue of a girl dosing herself for a yeast infection she believes that she caught by sleeping with her best friend's father, while ``Laying Off the Secretary'' reads like the thought balloons for a comic strip on sexual harassment. The more ambitious stories work better: ``Adrenalin'' is an extraordinarily subtle portrait of how adultery saves the marriage of an unhappy young couple, and ``Copterport on Cowell's Mountain'' manages to make something out of the hopelessly overdone patient- and-shrink-scenario. A very mixed bag, but with some nice bits buried down deep. Mazza's talent can be striking when she chooses to exercise it.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-57366-033-7

Page Count: 145

Publisher: FC2/Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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