Chatagnier is at his best when plumbing the emotional depths of ordinary lives rather than musing about the origins and...

WARNINGS FROM THE FUTURE

An eclectic cast of characters populates Chatagnier’s debut collection.

These stories include a wide array of American jobs and types. There’s a police officer, a physician’s assistant, an engineer at a seed company, artists who work in various media, sexually ambiguous students at a Christian college, and even an assistant manager/“de facto mechanic” for a rotating restaurant on top of a bank building in downtown Fresno. In the weaker stories the central characters—a piano player trying to play impossible etudes, a photographer who takes pictures of disasters, a depressed comedian, and a painter whose best work is received with indifference—all represent, a little too predictably, the difficulty and indignities inherent in making art. It isn’t news that childhood pain can inspire artistic striving or that collectors are often uninterested in what an artist judges is his finest work. By contrast, the collection’s strongest stories are about unexceptional people who live and work in the parts of California that nobody visits. The best is “The Top of Fresno,” which evinces real emotional intelligence. Its mechanic narrator considers having an affair with a co-worker, but he can’t quite commit. “I stayed on the edge of the bed, thinking about how either choice would have led to a lifetime of regret,” he recalls. “Choosing her bed would have been the more interesting regret, and the lesser regret in general. It would not have added mass to the accumulating regrets about my inability to act. It could have had its own special drawer.” Thematically speaking, quiet desperation in California’s arid inland counties is fertile soil.

Chatagnier is at his best when plumbing the emotional depths of ordinary lives rather than musing about the origins and value of art.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946724-03-8

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Acre

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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