There are so many of these brief, unspectacular stories by the Panamanian Levi that eventually their very number overwhelms. Many of the tales involve male-female relationships, usually with a heavy dose of machismo. In ``The Husband,'' a man spots a woman, apparently a former lover, with her new husband and punches him in the face. In ``While He Lay Sleeping,'' Carlos fantasizes about his first girlfriend, who used to sit and watch while he lifted weights: ``How beautiful her tits look from that angle, so tightly fit into her sweater''). In ``As If There Were Nothing the Matter,'' a woman ponders her sleeping, unfaithful husband, who has slapped her. ``On the Afternoon of the Encounter'' follows a man who fears that his lover is ignoring him and implores friends to find out what is the matter. Other types of sexuality abound here as well, but they are posited as unnatural curiosities. The narrator of ``I'm in Love With You, Sylvia'' watches a neighbor undressing every night, then reveals herself to be a woman. In ``The Spectacle,'' a story that reads like a synopsis of a Penthouse Forum letter, a man takes three female lovers and the four of them eventually begin sleeping together (mainly because the man desires two women at once but is too polite to leave the third out in the cold). When he dies, the three women remain in his home with the three sons they have borne him. There are also tales that manage to render surreal transformation mundane: The narrator of ``The Glasses'' turns into an owl after donning a new pair of spectacles. Although the stories are divided into vaguely titled sections such as ``Alienations,'' ``Incidents,'' and ``Re- Incidents,'' they come at the reader one after the other, never staying long enough to build up any impact. The translation is occasionally jerky, but generally serviceable. Forgettable.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-935480-65-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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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.


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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