Winner of the 1991 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, selected this year by Richard Ford: a first collection of ten stories notable for their lyrical accounts of children and young adults managing to survive emotionally in an unstable or painful world. Graver's rehearsals of reality are not always convincing, but they're lovely when they work. Many of the pieces develop according to a theme made explicit in ``The Blue Hour'': ``But sometimes, through a hitch in the mechanism, people stumble upon each other, though the circumstances do not match at all.'' In ``The Boy Who Fell Forty Feet,'' for instance, Graver renders an affecting account of a boy who wanders through the city with the knowledge that his father is dying; a chance encounter at a construction site teaches him to face the fierce uncertainty of circumstance. In the title story, Willa, who lives with her divorced mother (who ``expected the end of the world''), gets to know a blind child and learns about survival. Likewise, ``Music for Four Doors'' places a pregnant woman on the same neighborhood block with a man who's autistic; for the woman, observing and then getting to know the man is an education. In ``Around the World,'' it's the narrator who's afflicted, with an ``untraceable dislodged nerve'' that severely limits her activities. She lives through crying jags to sail in her imagination: ``How painful to see people fooling themselves. In my farthest reaches I go where I have no weight, where weight means nothing....'' The stories here that don't work tend to be arch (``The Body Shop'') or shapeless (``The Experimental Forest''). Even the failures, though, have their lyrical charms. Some of these first appeared in Seventeen, Southern Review, and Street Songs.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-8229-3682-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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.


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