THE WORLD AND OTHER PLACES

STORIES, 1986-1999

Astringently playful stories, written over 12 years, by the Whitbread Award—winning British novelist (Gut Symmetries, 1997, etc.). Though this first collection is brief, its author’s talent isn’t. Winterson’s appetite for social criticism mingles confidently with her lyrical instinct to give us savagely rhythmic portraits of people lost in lives they’d much rather not have to inhabit. “This is the story of Tom,” begins the tale “Newton,” following Tom through a tight-lipped rant about the pitfalls of dwelling in a suburb whose diabolically conformist code of etiquette impels its non-hero to conceal “my Camus in the fridge.” (Of a neighbor who discovers it there: — ‘Who is Albert K Mew?’ She pronounced it like an enraged cat.—) While Winterson attacks righteous insiders, she also batters—persuasively—anomalous Tom and his ilk for the fecklessness of his chosen alienation. In other stories, the balance shifts toward seductive evocation and away from the author’s tendency to travesty almost any convention. With “Turn of the World,” for instance, Winterson revises the fairy-tale genre by invoking the evolution of four islands. Her closing words are fleetly sensuous, if punctuated by wry observation: “Naturally enough this island is stocked with lions . . . The lions are ruthless as money. The gold is snap-jawed.” Although usually acerbically intelligent, her fiction is also capable of giving itself up entirely to sensory lavishness, as in “The Poetics of Sex,” a revel whose sections are framed by mischievous subtitles (“Were You Born a Lesbian?”). Winterson’s yen for invention can as readily regale us with the details of an Edenic puppyhood (“The 24-Hour Dog”) as skewer Yuletide urges (“O’Brien’s First Christmas”). Best of all, she seems willing to risk being misunderstood for the sake of taking choice imaginative lunges. Neither “realistic” nor “surrealistic,” but work that oddly alchemizes the virtues of both.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40240-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

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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