An inconsistent, but frequently luminous, debut.

Ten stories that reveal the strangeness and beauty of female experience.

Rarely has a book’s title set readerly expectations as well as the title of Colville’s debut collection of short stories. “Elegies” recalls that form in poetry; “uncanny” points to psychology. And, indeed, Colville’s prose shines when it is at its most lyrical and most psychologically probing. But also like the stories here, when the words in the title are all put together, meaning can be elusive. In “Other Mothers,” the opening story, a new mother fights debilitating anxiety about her newborn’s safety: “I sneak to her crib and hold my finger under her nose to see if I can feel the push of air, but her nostrils are merely decorative! The whorl on the door of a seashell, two holes in a button.” One day, she runs into another mother in a local cafe whose hands detach at the wrists. This sums up Colville’s M.O.: in the midst of beautiful writing and psychological acuity, the writing makes fabulist moves that end up feeling secondary in the face of Colville’s clear strengths. In “Jill, or The Big Little Lady,” a woman who randomly changes size and shape pitches a movie about mermaids to two movie producers in LA. In “Audra,” a little girl befriends a possibly imaginary playmate who boosts her self-esteem. But the most affecting moments of the collection come when Colville is making more ordinary gestures. A budding writer fixates on how she’ll fashion a seduction by her writing teacher into a story in “Details,” while in “Winona,” a family comes unglued when the teenage girl at its heart begins to express her sexuality. Readers may not be quite sure why these girls are uncanny, but when Colville is at her best, we’ll believe whatever she tells us.

An inconsistent, but frequently luminous, debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-253-02429-9

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016



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