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THE ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE

STORIES ABOUT THE BOYS

The essence of American boys' practicality, perversity, and sweetness memorably captured in a hundred brief, reverberant tales of farm life, some reprinted from an earlier collection by poet Heynen (You Know What is Right, 1985). Divided into six parts, Heynen's stories catalogue the daily brutality and beauty that shape the character of ``the boys,'' five or so brothers and their friends roaming on their fathers' (``the men's'') hog and corn farms in some unspecified midwestern state. They help birth calves—saving the life of a heifer and her calf by cutting up a second unborn calf in utero and removing it, piece by piece, to free the first—and rescue dogs, whose tails they chop off in an effort to make the motley pups acceptable to their fathers. They steal a watermelon from a town woman's garden (``Gotcha'') and blame the man who sneaks up on them and turns them in: ``Good people don't crawl on their hands and knees through the tomatoes to catch boys stealing.'' In ``Dancing with Chickens,'' they sneak into the coops in the early morning and clap softly until the chickens start to follow the beat; then the boys dance with the chickens until ``they got dizzy or heard someone coming. They didn't want anyone to see them doing this. Dancing with chickens was the only dancing the boys ever did. How would someone watching know...they weren't just following?'' And in ``The Grandfather,'' the boys shoot a mourning dove whose cooing is preventing their well-loved cancer-stricken grandfather from resting and ``brought the dead bird inside and held it up for their grandfather. They extended their arms toward him, each of them holding part of the birds' wings between his fingers, so he could see that this gift was from all of them.'' The boys form a perfect chorus of cruelty and kindness—and Heynen is a Hemingway of farm life. Exquisite.

Pub Date: June 3, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-41786-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

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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