THE STORIES OF JOHN CHEEVER

Sixty-one stories which—notwithstanding Cheever's four novels from The Wapshot Chronicle to Falconer—are the rock formation upon which his reputation truly rests. From the brief, self-deprecating preface: "These stories date from my Honorable Discharge from the Army at the end of World War II. Their order is, to the best of my memory, chronological and the most embarrassingly immature pieces have been dropped." Thus, the collection consists principally of the contents of five previous volumes: The Enormous Radio; The Housebreaker of Shady Hill; Some People, Places, And Things That Will Not Appear In My Next Novel; The Brigadier and The Golf Widow; and The Worm of Apples. Included, of course, are such famed tales as "The Swimmer," and the full, limited range of Cheever's preoccupations—marriage, suburbia, Manhattan, the middle class, the technological society, Italy, decency—is on constant display: the well-known "rut" that he broke out of with Falconer. Even when slightly dated or rarified, the stories remain sinfully readable, with those legendarily seductive opening lines—e.g. "The first time I robbed Tiffany's it was raining." True, the all-in-one format may not be terribly flattering to a single-note style. (First line of "The Swimmer": "It was one of those midsummer Sundays. . ." First line of "The Geometry of Love": "It was one of those rainy late afternoons. . .") And Cheever's latest, more freewheeling stories—like "The President of the Argentine"—are not included. But, if those earlier collections are not within reach, this mamoth grouping of small, polished pleasures is a luxurious necessity.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 1978

ISBN: 0375724427

Page Count: 971

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1978

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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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