Flawlessly interweaving personal and social tragedy with the imagery of interior and exterior spaces. Jamaica-born Hemans’s...

RIVER WOMAN

A remarkably assured and insightful debut offers a finely tuned, sympathetic portrait of a teenaged mother whose toddler drowns accidentally in the river where she’s washing clothes.

The drowning of young Timothy is over in a flash, or so it seems to Kelithe when his body is brought to her by the other women of the river. Then the rumors start that Kelithe watched her son as he went under, seeing it as the way to escape from rural, impoverished Standfast to New York, where her mother went when Kelithe was five, promising “soon-soon” to send for her. By the time Sonya, who hasn’t been back to Standfast for 15 years, arrives for the funeral, the whole village has turned against her daughter, enraged by the fact that the police didn’t even investigate the accident. Though Sonya has been sending Kelithe food and clothes over the years, she finds her daughter a stranger and doesn’t know who to believe. Kelithe, hopeful at first that Sonya will make good on the recently renewed promise to take her back to America, waits in silence and in vain for her mother to ask for her side of the story and to comfort her numbing grief. Meanwhile, Sonya’s own mother, who has raised Kelithe in Standfast and knows her innocent heart, watches bitterly as Sonya accepts the gossip and turns from them. Emboldened villagers intensify their campaign for justice: they build smoky roadblocks, burn the only bridge they have across the river, and finally get the attention they crave—but at a terrible price. By the time little Timothy is finally buried, a great deal more than one small life is interred.

Flawlessly interweaving personal and social tragedy with the imagery of interior and exterior spaces. Jamaica-born Hemans’s rare and distinctive debut is not only a tale for our time, but one for all time.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7434-1039-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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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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