Readable and comfortably undemanding. Fans will enjoy.

ORDINARY LIFE

STORIES

Oprah’s Book Clubber Berg (Open House, 2000, etc.) offers 15 stories deftly detailing those defining moments in ordinary women’s lives when fresh insights help explain their discontents.

Easily accessible, like photos in a family album, these tales record the specific and offer conventional breakthroughs that console. A woman suffering a recurrence of cancer who left her husband because she wanted to be alone now realizes she needs him (“Departure From Normal”). A visiting nurse who takes care of the dying regrets that she refused a patient’s invitation to make love, because she now understands that “there are exquisite acts of tenderness lying latent in all of us, waiting only for our permission to come into being” (“Sweet Refuge”). A childhood attempt at matchmaking includes the lesson that all of us are a mixture of things and that “the trick was to focus on the better parts” (“The Matchmaker”). In the poignant recollections of a beautiful but mentally ill mother, we see that she nevertheless has given her daughter enduring gifts of wisdom (“What Stays”). A married woman, sharing treasured childhood memories with a lover, ponders ending her unsatisfactory marriage (“Things We Used to Believe”). “The Party,” deliciously bawdy and frank, features a group of married women who start talking about men, their genitalia, and sex, until their husbands come to claim them. In the title story, the most original here, 79-year-old Mavis locks herself in the bathroom with a supply of food, reading matter, and enough pillows and blankets to making sleeping in the bath comfortable, telling her bewildered husband that she’s “on retreat.” With the uninterrupted time she craves, she is able to review her life, her marriage, and her family, emerging finally at peace with the realization that she had “done everything right.”

Readable and comfortably undemanding. Fans will enjoy.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2002

ISBN: 0-679-43746-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more