Well-crafted portraiture from southern novelist Chappell (More Shapes Than One, 1991; Brighten the Corner Where You Are, 1989, etc.), who offers proof that regional fiction is alive and well, and perfectly suited for export up North and farther afield. The first refreshing thing about Chappell is that he knows how to tell a story. The second is that he doesn't pretend to be doing anything else. Ostensibly, the central character here is Granny Sorrells, an elderly North Carolina hillbilly on her deathbed. Granny is surrounded by her kinfolk, but we more or less lose track of her as a character once her grandson Jess starts to reminisce about Granny's stories of the local women she spent most of her life with. We thus learn about ``The Shooting Woman,'' who seduced her husband with her marksmanship; ``The Figuring Woman,'' who became the village soothsayer; ``The Madwoman,'' who lost her wits after an unhappy affair, and so on. Although this concentration on strong, self-reliant backwoods girls brings the novel perilously close to self-parody at times, Chappell is able to provide enough color and credibility to the (easily recognizable) types he works with to rescue them from stereotype, and the old-fashioned and very formal device of giving us a narrator who stands largely outside the action of the tale works nicely to bring us into what ordinarily would be a very strange and disorienting world. To a large degree Chappell, like most regionalists, is attempting to re- create an entire society, and the success with which he does so gives his characters an uncommon depth and texture. Although his rhetoric can get a bit overblown, it usually supports the action and fits the characters. Busy, satisfying, and wholesome: Chappell casts a sharp eye upon a very rich landscape and gives us a portrait as poignant as it is clear. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1996

ISBN: 0-312-14600-0

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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