A promising collection that offers a necessary glimpse into lives often left unexamined.

In this debut collection, Scott’s characters confront the violence and unpredictability cutting through the grind of small-town life.

Scott’s stories examine the interior lives of middle- and working-class women in the deteriorating Rust Belt of Pennsylvania, from fast-food workers to set-upon waitresses, but she's also interested in unpacking the ways that stories are told. In “Narrative Time,” characters jostle for prominence in the space of a single footnoted sentence. In the title story, a young woman tells a man about the breakup of a previous relationship, carefully structuring the tale around the haphazard placement—and misplacement—of a cleaver in a moving van. The best stories in the collection find room among Scott’s gritty realism for more movement and play in the unexpected. Take the greasy love affair between two young women who work at a fried fish joint in “Myths of the Body.” Newly minted manager Ana sees her predictable relationship with a male boss “stretching before her like a paved and endless, frightening, path,” filled with “a house in Scranton with a side yard” and “fat, insecure children.” But when she falls for the “moody,” “bristling” Donny, whose “collar-bone craned as if reaching for something,” Ana finds something different to whet her appetite. In the equally strong “Monsieur,” a young woman recalls her relationship with a strange high school French teacher. “I spent years at attention, waiting for a glimpse of a dirty hat, a red turtleneck, the receding flap of a trench coat,” she thinks, upon learning her abuser has died. Beneath all of Scott’s strange and moving stories lie the promise or threat of violence and despair, which is, perhaps, the most real thing about them.

A promising collection that offers a necessary glimpse into lives often left unexamined.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946724-02-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Acre

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017



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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