A near-perfect collection about the knots we tie ourselves into and the countless ways we intertwine in the pursuit of sex,...

KNOTS

Formally playful, poignant, understated, and often acutely funny, Øyehaug's English-language debut teems with humanity.

In this collection of short—and short-short—stories, fluidly translated from the Norwegian by Dickson, Øyehaug swipes a deft finger through messy layers of human experience and inspects with a keen and generous eye the everyday tragedies, tender absurdities, and quiet joys of life. In the book's spectacular opener, "Nice and Mild," a man paralyzed by anxiety and indecision heads to IKEA for blinds for his son's room. As he talks himself out of the car, across the parking lot, and into the store, he thinks "this could be the start of a virtuous circle," the first step toward a new proactive self, the blinds "a lifeline that's been thrown to me from dry land as I flail and flounder in the waves." In "Small Knot," a son is tethered to his mother for life, and beyond, by an uncuttable umbilical cord in a delightfully morbid and literal rendering of familial bonds and their reverberations through the future. In "Deal," a girl's bicycle breaks shortly after she sets out to run away, and she misses the last ferry out of town. Stranded, she strikes a curious deal with a neighbor who has rescued her and is in need of a little rescuing himself. "Gold Pattern" is a melancholy in-coitus account of a vaguely coupled pair with intermittent and unequal passions, a heart-pricking tale of progressive loss and longing. And in “An Entire Family Disappears,” a grand-uncle rattles his family at a funeral by telling a tale of how easily they might not have come to exist, told in dramatic form with the story unfolding entirely in stage directions.

A near-perfect collection about the knots we tie ourselves into and the countless ways we intertwine in the pursuit of sex, love, compassion, and family.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-18167-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

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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