These memorable stories are loosely connected by lots of sex but too little love. The thread that holds it all together is...

EIGHTBALL

Geoghegan’s (Natural Disasters, 2014, etc.) eloquently told stories examine themes of loneliness, sex, addiction, and grief through the lens of unfamiliar cultures and languages.

Part love stories, part travelogues, these are tales of world-weary characters, almost all of them women with appetites. They are at home everywhere and nowhere, stopping for a time in Rome, Seattle, Boulder, Bangkok, or Chicago. Wry humor and a ferocious authenticity inform their missed cues, bar scenes, bed fumbles, and picturesque ramblings. They crave love or connection but mostly end up with fractured, halfhearted intimacies. Geoghegan bravely navigates the rough terrain of the privileged and the chronically unloved with exquisite skill, impeccable pacing, and literary turns of phrase. During a harrowing car ride along the Amalfi coast in "The Violet Hour," Violet’s lover, a photographer, tells her to hold the wheel so he can take a shot of the rain-drenched cliff and the water below. She is terrified but does what she's told. “That had been the hook. Billy’s ability to turn a hardship into a thing of beauty, crystalizing it in a single image made at precisely the right moment. Plenty of people can point and shoot. Few are able to gaze through the lens and truly see.” In "eightball," the last story in the collection, younger sister Quinn adores her older brother, Patrick. They share typical sibling misadventures: Patrick falls off a ladder Quinn is holding. He breaks his arm and shatters a wrist. Later, they share other things, like a taste for alcohol and cocaine. Too late, the effects of dysfunctional parents and squandered gifts result in a downward spiral that seems inevitable. There’s wry humor and mysterious grief here, the hidden kind that comes unbidden after several tequila shots.

These memorable stories are loosely connected by lots of sex but too little love. The thread that holds it all together is Geoghegan’s cool, articulate demeanor and masterful writing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939650-95-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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