Assured and perceptive, offering a view of another Southland from Chandler’s and Didion’s.


Vignettes of Latino life in Los Angeles, reminiscent of Michael Tolkin’s The Player in its sardonic range.

It’s probably safe to guess that most teenage girls do not receive each evening, as if in a daily affirmation, the instruction, “Mija, when you kill a man, you must find the weak spot that all men have and make him suffer pain as he has never suffered before.” Mama’s advice, happily, isn’t often followed literally in these sketches, but in most of them the men are revealed to be riddled with weak spots indeed, measuring out their lives—as do the women, for that matter—in coffee spoons, or at least in visits to Starbucks. Coffee, indeed, seems to have healing powers in the opening story, "Good Things Happen at Tina's Café." At least Yuban does, the stuff that the polydactylic protagonist Félix quaffs in the diner owned by the alluring Tina, who, by the end of the story, may or may not exist, just as Félix’s ordinary reality may or may not be a decaffeinated illusion. Enigmatic and suggestive, the story is an exercise in a gritty form of magical realism, complete with funicular railway. The lead in Olivas’ (The Book of Want, 2011, etc.) title story is less likable, deservedly proud of his accomplishments—“Those punks had no pinche empire, that’s for goddamn sure”—and a complicated enough character to stand up to a little Rashomon-ish examination through the eyes of several people who know him, in interviews conducted on behalf of a writer who just happens to be named Olivas (“a real pendejo”). Though often playful, the collection ends on a grim note as a family is torn apart by the “great wall” that a certain president touts, in an endless audio loop over a detention center loudspeaker system, as one that Mexico will pay for, “and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”

Assured and perceptive, offering a view of another Southland from Chandler’s and Didion’s.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8165-3562-0

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Univ. of Arizona

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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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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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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