A first collection of 18 loosely connected stories set in a woebegone piece of Maine on the Canadian border. Wuori’s most conventional effort may be “Family,” about an idealistic college professor and his family, newcomers to the town of Quilli. They want to get close to the land, despite the warning from the locals: “Don’t go living out somewhere. It won’t be what you think.” What it is is snow that drifts so high and lasts for so long that they can’t get help for sick children, and go crazy with an almost surreal loneliness. “Fantasy was the only thing left. All else was madness,” notes another character, Pearson, in “Nude,” as if speaking for all of these stories. Pearson makes love to Liselle, his fellow clerk in the tiny town hall. As lives are snuffed out with random violence and the snow continues to pile up, Pearson imagines a different sort of life than Quilli can offer, and salvages just a little of his poetic soul. In “Revenge,” two gunmen kidnap an ordinary married couple. The wife is injured slightly, which so incites her husband that he begins a struggle with the driver, wrestles away the gun, and turns the tables. At first, husband and wife resolve to turn over the kidnappers to authorities, but then the husband shoots one of the men in the hand, beginning a systematic torture of the criminals that ends in their strange and pitiful death. Like many of Wuori’s stories, “Revenge” is melodramatic but effective, pointing up the violence and chaos just under the rational surface of many of us. Wuori’s looniness is his own, and sometimes seems contrived. But cleverness lies beneath his deceptively simple style, and, with an emphasis on the quirks of small-town characters, he often brings to mind Sherwood Anderson.

Pub Date: March 26, 1999

ISBN: 1-56512-223-2

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Algonquin

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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