Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.

HONEYDEW

STORIES

Pearlman (Binocular Vision, 2011, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award) returns with another collection of closely observed, often devastating stories of more or less ordinary life.

Pearlman is a poet of eyes and hair; nearly every story features an observation, often in the form of an arresting image, of these features. So it is that in the opening story, in which an art historian figures, a woman appears whose “eyes in her lightly wrinkled face were the blue of a Veronese sky,” and so it is, in seeming homage to Chekhov, that in another story, a character sports “brown hair, too much of it, a blunt nose and chin, and a habit, during conversation, of fastening his gaze on one side of your neck or the other.” A vampire? No, just another character who’s not quite comfortable inside his or her own skin, as so many of Pearlman’s characters are not. Pearlman, who is in her late 70s, writes with the wisdom of accumulated experience, and many of her characters have suffered the loss of spouses, even if they themselves are not yet of age. One comparative youngster, a spry 49, has just lost her husband in war: “Each of his parts was severed from the others,” Pearlman writes arrestingly, “and his whole—his former whole—was severed from Paige.” Every word counts in that sentence, and Pearlman fills volumes with her economy of language, even if so much is devoted to such not-quite-usual matters as “corneal inlays” and people who bear odd sobriquets: “Louie the vegetable man was not composed of fruit or vegetables. He was composed of a cap, a face with little eyes and a big nose and a mouth missing some teeth, and a pile of assorted clothing from a junk shop.”

Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-29722-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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