THE DARK TOWER AND OTHER STORIES

No scholar ever wore his learning more modestly than C. S. Lewis; no essayist ever got to the point more matter-of-factly; no story-teller ever conveyed greater happiness in his own "making," as he might have called it. And probably no writer would have been more ruthless in pruning various incomplete odds and ends of his literary estate, if he had been able to get round to it. One is bound to have mixed feelings about the attempt of Walter Hooper (Lewis' former secretary and a trustee of the estate) to salvage the uncollected and unfinished fiction. The present volume includes two stories which were never published in Lewis' lifetime, two which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and two fragments of longer narratives. The first of these, The Dark Tower, is by far the most impressive thing in the collection, apparently the beginnings of an unfinished sequel to Out of the Silent Planet. The basic premise—a parallel world with a two-dimensional time going not only backwards and forwards but "eckwards" and "andwards"—is delightful, and the groundwork of the plot is laid out with such confidence that one wonders how Lewis could have borne not to finish it. At the other end of the gamut, a fragmentary retelling of Helen and Menelaus' return from Troy is oddly bereft of energy. "Forms of Things Unknown," cast in the form of a rather trivial moonexploration story, works a splendid and wholly unexpected change upon a more frightening myth; "The Man Born Blind" plays clumsily but movingly (and chillhillingly) with the idea of newly acquired sight. The two M.F.S.F. stories remind us of a less welcome Lewis: the patronizing and avuncular pigeonholer of other people's departures from the path of true belief. This Lewis is intermittently visible through the whole collection—sneering at "modern" young women who discuss sex frankly, trivializing a grown man's homosexual impulse into a schoolgirl crush, smugly imagining the "shoddiness" of an inoffensive girl's mental universe. Time has dealt both kindly and unkindly with Lewis. One is keenly aware that the English language has not changed for the better in the thirteen years since his death. It is a pleasure to listen to this voice again, but not always to hear what it is saying.

Pub Date: April 18, 1977

ISBN: 0156027704

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1977

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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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