Despite a surfeit of crybabies, Crouse’s bleak outlook is richly complex and deeply felt.

COPY CATS

STORIES

This year’s winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction offers seven stories and a novella pervaded by a sense of aloneness, of disconnection even from those with whom the central characters are supposedly most intimate.

“Morte Infinite” depicts the tragedy of a young girl whose love for her father only increases as she watches his mental state deteriorate. The mother in “Swimming in the Dark” mistakenly believes she has shared a moment of secret intimacy with her younger son, but he knows better. In “Code,” a Kafkaesque nightmare of corporate bureaucracy, isolation is part of the protagonist’s unbearable anxiety. In “Kopy Kats,” a copy-shop clerk is dramatically affected—leaving behind girlfriend and job—after helping a customer who falls unconscious in his doorway, with the recovered customer regarding him as an irrelevant stranger. Crouse often uses class differences to put wedges between lovers. The woman at the center of “Retreat” has compromised with herself and the truth to maintain her prosperous married life. In “The Ugliest Boy,” a working-class high-school boy is hopelessly in love with a well-off girl bound for the Ivy League although his closer connection is with the girl’s disfigured older brother. In “Cry Baby,” the author of a memoir about his poverty-stricken childhood with an abusive father—another recurring motif—confronts truths about his best friend and himself that he cannot acknowledge in print, or to his wife. The novella, “Click,” follows a young man who is engaged to a “comfortable” young woman but who finds himself drawn to photographing a drug-addled, part-time prostitute. He is repulsed and attracted to the dangers and extremity of her shattered life, but in the end opts for his fiancée’s sane mediocrity.

Despite a surfeit of crybabies, Crouse’s bleak outlook is richly complex and deeply felt.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2005

ISBN: 0-8203-2746-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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