An ambitious and wide-ranging set of stories that creates empathy for most of its characters due to Tallent's generous...

MENDOCINO FIRE

STORIES

This collection of stories in the American realist tradition has an adventurous, untethered feeling, with wide-ranging locales and points of view.

The first thing you notice about Tallent's first book in more than 20 years (Honey, 1993, etc.) is its breadth of subject matter. Set on university campuses, in the hardscrabble backwoods, or among much-divorced families, these stories feature emotionally wrenching situations and dramatic landscapes. Tallent probes different points of view—a young man struggling with his dad in a working-class California fishing community; an academic having an erotic encounter with her female student; an aging activist dealing with his multiple-ex-wives problem. These stories explore different genders, sexualities, and settings with skill and subtle intelligence. Next you notice Tallent’s, er, talent as a prose stylist—she writes in long sentences pulsing with images and insights. In a story about a woman painfully and suddenly divorced, Tallent describes the woman's thoughts when scrutinizing a photograph of her husband's lover: "The mouth is done in a lipstick of a crude, carnal, trashy red, a third-world mouth, a Cuban mouth, and Ximena can't help wondering if the lover feels the need to mitigate her whiteness, if the ethnification of her mouth is owed to competitiveness with Ximena, about whom [her husband] must tell stories...." Or an academic observing her student, for whom she’s developed an overwhelming attraction: “Under Clio’s hot gaze the knot of passionate hair at the Beloved’s nape, screwed so tight in its coil, releases red-gold strands flaring with electricity.” Tallent’s assured voice is a pleasure to follow through this book. Occasionally, she tries to cover too much ground within one story, and the reader loses the thread, as confusing gaps of time occur and important characters recede. But mostly, Tallent is in control as she navigates her shifting landscapes.

An ambitious and wide-ranging set of stories that creates empathy for most of its characters due to Tallent's generous imagination.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-241034-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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