The latest winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction, about working-class fathers and sons: a collection of 17 stories—hard-luck fiction with a vengeance—set mostly in northern Michigan. Loss and violence season a number of these pieces. In the title story, a boy drowns when he tries to swim underwater from one ice-fishing shanty to another, and the narrator, a boy who survives to tell the tale, understands that the drowning victim, Ashelby Judge, knew about storytelling: ``Judge said you could measure a story by its private disclosures, by how far a person came forward to confess a part of himself, asking for forgiveness.'' Driscoll takes such an aesthetic to heart, whether writing (in ``Pig and Lobsters'') about a single father who falls for a woman only to be stood up, whereupon (witnessed by his son) he kills a pig and sidearms a lobster ``as hard as he could against the unpainted boards''; or about a father and son (in ``Death Parts'') who shoot a bear but must trade it for auto parts when their car breaks down. Many narrators here, in fact, are driven to do what they do by such family relationships. In ``Flee to Jesus,'' a father prone to crackups is hired to kill deer that are destroying fruit trees, and the son comes to see his own impotence: ``I never learned how to prevent his crackups, how to intervene early and stave off the madness.'' These sons learn how essential forgiveness is, as well as how important the crucible of plot can be: ``Good writing should make your reader's knees go weak.'' Driscoll occasionally contrives an action or implausibly forces a character into weirdness, but mostly the weirdness comes naturally. An impressive, gritty northern Michigan version of Andre Dubus.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-87023-808-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992

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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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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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