Well-crafted and intelligent—yet lifeless and rambling: a ramble through Danny’s adolescence that has too much incident and...

A FRIEND OF KISSINGER

Milofsky (Color of Law, 2000, etc.) returns with a coming-of-ager set in 1970s Milwaukee, the story of a young man’s emergence from the confines of a close-knit but troubled family.

When Danny Meyer went back to Milwaukee for his father’s funeral, it was his first visit in nearly 30 years to the home that he thought he’d been glad to leave forever. Born in Madison, Danny moved with his family to Milwaukee as a boy when his father became ill and had to give up his post at the University. Milwaukee was a big step down for the Meyers, who had enjoyed their status as a faculty family in college-town Madison, but Danny managed to find a kindred spirit in his classmate Joey Goodstein, whose family had also fallen on hard luck when his hotshot lawyer father had been sent to prison as a racketeer. Danny does well in school, partly because he finds refuge from his father’s illness and his brother’s mental delusions by retreating to an empty storage room in the basement of their apartment building to read. He also makes the acquaintance of Anna, a Holocaust survivor who lives down the hall and dotes on him. After Anna’s husband dies, she becomes the lover of Jesús, a Guatemalan immigrant who speaks no English and got into the country without papers. Anna writes to Henry Kissinger, whom she knew as a child in Germany, asking his help in getting a green card for Jesús, and Kissinger actually replies, offering his advice and assistance. In order to straighten out his status, however, Jesús must return to Guatemala and reenter the US. Anna goes with him, bringing Danny along. Eventually, Danny wins a scholarship to a good school and ends up a happy family man in Colorado.

Well-crafted and intelligent—yet lifeless and rambling: a ramble through Danny’s adolescence that has too much incident and too little focus to be engaging.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-299-18520-6

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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