A routine thriller in surgical gear.

LIE STILL

The overly long tale of a young doctor who gets caught up with the wrong woman in an ER, and of his subsequent efforts to redeem himself.

Newcomer Farris, a pediatric anesthesiologist, draws on descriptions of actual case histories to orbit the story of Dr. Malcolm Ishmail, now back practicing medicine in Nebraska for the ungodly rate of $43/hour thanks to a kid in Arizona who coded blue on him in the worst way, and just kept getting bluer and bluer. Flashback to the “The Book of Mimi,” the story of how Ishmail got there. It all begins with Mimi, Ishmail’s supervising surgeon when he’s a lowly post-grad. Mimi is Dr. Fatale, untalented but gorgeous, and eager to get into Ishmail’s jockstrap once she knows he’s a sensitive soul. She takes him on “an extended tour of the Land of the Erotic.” And while adventuresome sex is a good thing for its vulnerability, adventuresome surgery is not—which is what happens when an aneurysm goes sour on Mimi, leading to an “unfortunate outcome,” and Ishmail, who was participating, gets the third degree from folks looking into the case. Eventually, Mimi admits to Ishmail that sometimes she gets lost in the brain. Mimi’s skill had always been an issue, but will Ishmail snitch on her in the name of ethics, and because he’s really destined for a more wholesome other? Sure he will. And when Mimi hears of it, the affair’s over and she pulls off the kid gloves with a letter accusing him of inappropriate advances and involvement with illegal drugs. Once that’s over, we start up with the narrative that will lead to the bad blue-coding: Might it turn out that it was somehow Mimi’s doing, and that this might all end with gunplay? Don’t rule it out. Or might Ishmail one day find a way to make a more reasonable living as a doctor? Farris announces early that he hopes to give a more accurate account of an emergency room than E.R., but, really, Lie Stillis just a variation on its theme, accurate or no.

A routine thriller in surgical gear.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-050554-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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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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