Three entertaining sketches, though mostly of interest to fans of The Leopard.


Three parablelike pieces of short fiction from Lampedusa (1896-1957), best known for The Leopard (1958), his sweeping novel about Sicilian aristocracy.

This trio of stories doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to determine if Lampedusa could have been a great short-form writer, but each is marked by an ironic wit and the intimate knowledge of Italian class distinctions that infuses The Leopard. “The Professor and the Siren” is narrated by a young journalist who allows himself to be routinely browbeaten for his ignorance by an aging scholar of ancient Greece. Set during the rise of fascism in Italy, the tale is an allegory about the perils of forgetting the past, but Lampedusa gives that message a lively and subtle cast, turning on the scholar’s alleged encounter with a mermaid. “Joy and the Law” is a brief comic story about a man whose Christmas bonus includes a large cake that proves to be a burdensome reminder of his obligations to others, and it’s as light as its “easy come, easy go” message. The closing, “The Blind Kittens,” is made of much more ambitious stuff and was written as the first chapter of a follow-up to The Leopard. Centered on the Ibba family, whose rapacious land grabs have made it one of the most powerful forces in Sicily, the story follows a group of men gossiping. As they exchange “envies, grudges, fears,” they also share rumors about the clan, and in their chatter lays a hint of a widescreen epic that would capture the family’s rise to power. But it has punch as a stand-alone story about jealousy, with a glint of humor: “[E]ach of them wished for Ibba’s millions so that others would invent similarly sumptuous lies about him,” Lampedusa writes.

Three entertaining sketches, though mostly of interest to fans of The Leopard.

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59017-719-8

Page Count: 96

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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