A thoughtful collection in which the strongest stories are the most understated.

The Blue Hole and Other Stories

Short stories that explore turning points in people’s lives, often from a working-class point of view.

The title of one of Hendrix’s (Tour of Duty, 2012) 14 short pieces, “Seminal Moments,” could stand for most of the others. Each captures a pivotal experience, whether of a boy gaining new understanding of himself (“The Blue Hole”), an old man making a grim decision (“Life Along the Mississippi”) or a couple understanding their relationship is truly over (“The Pier at Nature’s Point”). The stories’ points of view are mostly masculine, with “Patty” a notable exception (“The Attic” includes both male and female viewpoints). Many take place in a timeless American past, often in the South, where everyone has short, plain names such as Mike, Tom, Linda or Bill. The stories’ adults are mostly working-class—a bricklayer, a small-business owner, a soldier—and several are like John in “Following the Trade”: “Hard work was something he knew from childhood. It was a way of life, and he knew no other.” In one of the most successful stories, “Hullaballoo,” Buck, a civil engineer, doesn’t even think of himself in white-collar terms; what’s important to him is working “shoulder to shoulder with other men, their work talk, the sounds of heavy equipment running.” These bring him “a sense of ease and a clear head. As long as there was hullaballoo, he was fine.” Hendrix shows a talent for dialogue when he captures the rhythms of the loud, busy bar where Buck hangs out. He also skillfully brings out Buck’s need for noise and movement, and when Buck tells the bartender that he can help with some work by saying, “I’m available,” the words capture Buck’s world of lonely extroversion. That said, a few stories are less subtle and thus less successful, such as the title story, which reads like a boy’s heroic fantasy of saving someone’s life.

A thoughtful collection in which the strongest stories are the most understated. 

Pub Date: March 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1492961321

Page Count: 230

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2014

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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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