Beautifully crafted stories with a true-to-life ring.

A lush tangle of small-town life branches out in this engrossing collection of short stories.

The town of Acorn, population 21,000, is rare for its abundance of trees, unheard of on the dry West Texas plains. It also boasts a profusion of quirky characters–both in line and at odds with Texas’s Bible-belt, football-factory culture–whose relationships entwine and deepen from one tale to the next. A coach threatens to out a deaf, gay high-school English teacher after he gives a failing mark to a gridiron star. A gallery owner threatens to out the publicly homophobic mayor with whom he had a brief gay affair. A jobless loser, dependent on his wife’s money, starts a fundamentalist church group to keep women in their place. A young wife holds down two strip-mall jobs while dreaming of becoming a painter, and a hack novelist fakes his death to drum up sales. There’s also a roster of characters coping with mundane joys and heartaches–a black woman finds late-blooming love, a cop vows to short circuit the cycle of abuse that marred his childhood, a domineering woman and a lunkhead limp toward marriage. The characters walk in and out of each other’s stories, sometimes taking center stage, sometimes playing supporting roles that complicate our view of them with shifting perspectives and ironic detail. Simolke (Degranon, 2002, etc.) steers clear of schmaltz and writes with a open-eyed sympathy that illuminates the characters without glamorizing them.

Beautifully crafted stories with a true-to-life ring.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 1936

ISBN: 978-0-595-28864-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010



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



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