“Try not to be cruel.” “I loved Eyes Wide Shut.”



If this were a movie written by Raphael, the climactic dialogue might sound like this:

“How could it happen?” “Look, he’s fabulous and swings both ways, novels and screenplays. But slack moments happen in his films too. Look at that final scene between Sidney Pollack and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. The air shoots right out of the movie. Too much talk.” “And you’re saying?” “This novella, All His Sons. Too many notes, Mozart. I kept falling asleep. Too many pages of deaf Raphael, not like his Coast to Coast (1999). Bundles of facts with no suspense.” “Not all of it.” “Of course not. It springs to life for long stretches. And passages rise up in dancing screenplay format. Then we get buried in talk again. I had to read the first ten pages twice to get all the characters straight. Two brothers, Stanley and Sidney. Stanley’s a professor who teaches film. Sidney produces films. They’re sons of a retired garment maker. Or are they? What about the black man their father treats like a son?” “This strives for satire on film deconstructionists?” “Yeah, but it’s not too funny. And the final scene with the brothers trying to get a grip on their origins. I felt him making it up as he went along.” “Well, how about the nine stories?” “Hopeful little firecrackers that hiss and pop but never explode. Most written for BBC Radio. Even here detail jams up. Most tell of greedy film folk and are not meant to change your life. Most will be lost on future readers and require more footnotes than Dante.” “Which did you like best?” “The last, ‘Son of Enoch,’ which told of a Somerset Maugham–like figure who wants to (not) write a career-capping phantom novel like Capote’s Answered Prayers. The style’s too smart by half—but that’s the point, the forked tongue of literary folk.”

“Try not to be cruel.” “I loved Eyes Wide Shut.”

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-945774-49-4

Page Count: 187

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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