Arnold has crafted a fierce book for those who know the game—and for the rest of us, who can vicariously push through our...

SNOWBLIND

STORIES OF ALPINE OBSESSION

This debut story collection is a gutsy, up-close look at mountain climbing around the world.

Arnold is an outdoor writer whose nonfiction work focuses on climbing (From Salt to Summit, 2012, etc.). He's an active climber himself, and this book rings true, examining the lives of those who are lured to the mountains. Subcultures always have their own languages, and Arnold has his down: “The angle ratchets out toward vertical. Ann pounds a half-hitch piton to the eye…threads a bight through her handle-modified GriGri, and clips the end to the piton.” That writing typifies the rhythm and rich language that drive all the stories in this collection. “The Cleaning Crew” is a somber look at a climber losing his partner during an unimaginable storm on the rock. He tells the tale to find relief but receives no sympathy from the other climbers at a hostel in Argentina. “No Place for Vagabonds” feels like an epic travelogue told by a guerrilla climber who's asked to join a major, industrialized expedition to K2. Chase Vox describes the group, awestruck and repulsed: “We were a small country. The rich and powerful doing bizarre stuff at the top while the workers labored at the bottom.” But there's a twist—a hippy named Wind who shadows the expedition and sets Chase’s mountain ethic on its ear as he accomplishes what no one else can. “Cowards Run” is outdoor writing at its best, delivered in a tale of two 17-year-old boys living an impossible summer; it starts with the storms of the sea and ends atop Mount Fairweather. In this book, the top is the point.

Arnold has crafted a fierce book for those who know the game—and for the rest of us, who can vicariously push through our fears of the wild.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61902-453-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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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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