A treasure-trove of stories, from the very earliest she ever published, to work published posthumously, from the late, great Frame.

Frame (1924-2004)—author of more than 20 books in multiple genres, winner of every literary prize she was eligible for in her native New Zealand, honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Literature—is a master. Thirteen of the 28 stories in this collection were unpublished in her lifetime, though one of the best, “The Gravy Boat,” was read aloud by the author on radio in 1953. The gravy boat, part of a set of china given to a retiring “Locomotive engineer,” leaves the recipient at sea. “I Got a Shoes,” “A Night at the Opera” and “Gorse is Not People” concern themselves with the insane and the institutions where they waste away, patronized and abused. All harrowing, the latter two are masterpieces. “The Wind Brother” is a fairy tale, “The Silkworms” a savage parody of the big fish in the small pond, “Gavin Highly” a piercing parable about the difference between meaning and value. According to the notes, many of the stories may be autobiographical; many cover material that Frame treated elsewhere. A mere 30 pages, “The Big Money” is the longest story. Told from the perspective of a youngest son, it follows the descent of a family, from gentle semirural poverty to urban squalor and tragedy, and hinges on a single hilarious misunderstanding. All overflow with dazzling observation and unforgettable metaphor: “a blue vein, like the thin giggle from inside a fish, lying, throbbing, under his skin.”

A powerful collection.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-6190-2169-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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