Coleman's second collection (after Stories from Mesa Country, 1991): mostly delicate explorations of the passage of adolescents into adulthood and of married women into the complexities of adultery or disenchantment. In the first section here, ``The Balducci Garden,'' the narrator of the title story comes of age sexually by voyeuristically observing the Balducci brothers who live next door to her grandmother. The central metaphor is an apt one—the narrator breaks stones apart to find ``the hidden beauty'' of their crystalline centers. This sort of metaphor-cum-sketch is the dominant pattern here—Coleman relies on her poetic prose to carry readers instead of fully developing her plots—and, usually, it works. In the second section, ``The Age of Insects,'' the title story is about a woman who, along with her husband, baby, and shallow mother-in-law, comes upon a beached whale and learns of the callousness of humans. In ``The Lover of Swamps,'' a poet—married to a naturalist but in love with someone else—develops ``an affinity with the swamp.'' In ``Glasnost,'' a woman of 40 comes to see how she's ``lived more than half [her] life as a robot.'' The third section, ``Wives and Lovers,'' begins with the delicate story of a sculptor who falls in love with a woman in a house where he's a temporary guest and who learns from her how to see. In ``Compromising Alice,'' Alice, after 15 years of marriage to jerk George, divorces him to consider whether or not to marry thoughtful Henry. And ``La Signora Julia'' is about a famous physicist's student who develops a crush on the man's wife and meditates on how incompatible people manage to stay together before learning, later, that the man's wife has left him. Coleman, at best, displays the easy poetic grace of an Alice Munro. Even when sketchy, her lyricism usually saves the day.

Pub Date: May 15, 1993

ISBN: 0-8040-0964-3

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Ohio Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993



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



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