A rich haul from a well of talent.

Gathered from six earlier collections, spanning more than three decades, 28 stories from the redoubtable English writer.

A youngish mother on a faraway beach. Staring into the water, a stranger with a familiar back. It’s Heneker! Ten years before, in London, Hetty had been his art student and mistress. Now she’s happily married and Heneker is a famous painter. Together they explore a painful paradox, leavened with humor: They’re soul mates but incompatible ("Hetty Sleeping"). Nancy and Clancy are soul mates, too, but there’s no humor attending these childhood sweethearts, for their future is darkened by heartbreak ("The Boy who Turned into a Bike"). Gardam’s stories range widely. She’s as good with the very old ("Old Filth," a postscript to her same-titled novel) as the very young ("Swan"). The upper classes, observed with a beady eye, come off unattractively: mean-spirited, oblivious to suffering ("The Tribute" and "Miss Mistletoe"). Gardam doesn't fare as well with the deeply depressed: "Rode by all with Pride" and "Damage" are uncharacteristically labored. She writes ghost stories with flair ("A Spot of Gothic," "Soul Mates") but is less successful with fantasy ("The Green Man," "The Zoo at Christmas"). One exception is her delightfully mischievous sequel to Hans Christian Andersen’s classic, in which the Little Mermaid’s littlest sister decides to check out the prince for herself. Her verdict? “Men aren’t worth it” ("The Pangs of Love"). In somewhat different territory there’s "Grace," about a man with a diamond under his skin; it’s a tall tale that’s markedly less tall by the end. The most attention-getting story is "The Sidmouth Letters": A hustling American academic is hot to buy correspondence which may provide a peek into Jane Austen’s private life, but a relative of the woman who owns the letters beats him to the punch. What happens next will thrill some Janeites and appall others.

A rich haul from a well of talent.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60945-199-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014



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

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