Nineteen new stories from Weldon (Wicked Women, etc.) that, even when fragmentary, sizzle with intellectual energy and acerbic wit. Weldon is noted for her tales of the war between the sexes, a war where victory doesn—t always go to the strong or the deserving. Like a war correspondent, her dispatches from the battlefield both shock and instruct, but, as sex may be just one big cosmic joke, humor and satire often relieve the underlying bitterness. Pieces such as “Percentage Trust” and “Inspector Remorse—describe, respectively, a woman who coolly calculates every action in percentage terms during her affair with a man, whom she rightly doesn’t trust; and a married woman and art critic who sits in church on Good Friday trying to decide whether she’s a sociopath because she feels no remorse for the suicide of the wife of the artist she seduced. The wittiest story here is “What the Papers Say—: a successful model and a married movie star have an affair, which, when discovered, becomes headline news. Their careers are ruined, and their lives change in unsuspected ways, but by the time mitigating facts are revealed, other tales—of an air crash, of a royal divorce—have risen to take their place. In the title story, a mordant modern allegory, Weldon mocks bureaucratic contemporary health care, fatherhood, pop psychology, and even feminism when a prospective father faints, sickens, and is rushed to a local emergency room upon hearing the word “baby.” Other standouts detail parents’ scandalous behavior that fortuitously prevents an unsuitable marriage (—A Great Antipodean Scandal” ); a mother’s contradictory admonitions that finally make sense (—My Mother Said—); and a haunted house exorcized by the marriage of its owner to a man who feels that he has mistreated his own house (—Spirits Fly South—). Some unevenness, but always bracing and full of zest.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-58234-011-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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