A second collection from Papanikolas (Small Bird, Tell Me, not reviewed) that movingly details the struggles of Greek immigrants in America and their descendants, torn between the consolations and the constrictions of the old ways. These are quiet, domestic stories of a people shaped by a past and by religious rituals so ingrained that even the young can never entirely ignore them. Papanikolas's Greeks live in small towns, where they form close-knit communities. The lives of parents and grandparents revolve around family, church, and social clubs, but the younger generation seems eager to embrace a new identity as Americans. The title piece (the collection's best) is an affecting account of one woman's struggle both to shape and retain her identity. Athena, the youngest child of Greek immigrants, has (unlike her older sisters) gone to college and married outside the community; she suffers a severe breakdown when her eldest son, Paul, a zealous Mormon, pressures her to renounce the old faith and become a full-fledged Mormon. In other notable stories, Kallie, a young woman working in a hospital during the Depression, is stunned by the prejudice she encounters and fears that she'll have no choice but to marry within the suffocating confines of the local Greek community (``Country Hospital, 1939''); the acutely observed jealousies that are provoked by success cause two sisters and their husbands, once best friends, to grow apart (``Neither Nose Nor Ass''); and the differences between the old ways of doing things, and the often shocking new, are noted as women prepare for a church celebration (``Getting Ready for the Festival''). ``If I Don't Praise My House'' deals with a widow's encounter with old grievances; in ``The People Garden,'' an old woman finds that her garden stirs vivid memories of vanished family members. Evocative portraits of a people on the cusp, and of a culture caught in its dying but still resonant last moments.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8040-0993-7

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Swallow Press/Ohio Univ.

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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