Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

In 13 stories set mostly in his native Northern Ireland, novelist Park (The Poets’ Wives, 2014, etc.) explores the emotional lives of men from youth to old age.

While Park occasionally flirts with high culture—the opening story, “Learning to Swim,” features a young Donne scholar from England finding a poem for his new, older, richer, but less educated Belfast acquaintance to recite at his wedding; “The Kiss” swings between the scoundrel painter Caravaggio’s betrayal of a friend and present-day adultery—the emphasis here is on the daily grind of love. In the heart-wrenching “Boxing Day,” a teenager spends a miserable afternoon with his mentally ill mother, impatient to return to the new happy family his father has created yet longing to “know [his] mother as she must once have been.” Although the island on which the retired teacher in “Skype” lives may be extreme in its isolation, his yearning to stay connected with his faraway daughter via her preferred technology captures the zeitgeist of contemporary parenthood. In “Man Overboard,” four childhood friends, now middle-aged, spend an awkward fishing trip not really talking “about ourselves in the present” until one of them faces a crisis and the others react, revealing the potential tenderness of male friendship. Park shows love gone bad—the cop assigned a surveillance beat by day in “Keeping Watch” spends nights on unofficial surveillance of his ex-wife’s house despite a court order, his inability to let go turned into sickness—but the best stories here approach marital love as a complex organism. Technology is again the metaphor in “The Bloggers,” about a married couple’s evolution online and off. The long, seemingly moribund marriage in “Gecko” endures and reblooms once the husband accepts his own limitations. In “Old Fool,” the lonely widower who allows a struggling single mother to take advantage of his optimistic naiveté is also consciously compensating for his failure to appreciate his wife while she was alive.

Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-40886-607-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004


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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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