Metcalf applies wit, humor, and fine writing to themes of friendship, culture, commitment, and integrity—and all the petty...


These four related fictions follow a British boy’s coming-of-age and his older self enduring a world that rarely lives up to his standards.

In the opening novella, Medals and Prizes, Robert Forde first appears in 1950s England at age 14 as he shares with his best friend a love of words, art, and jazz records. After university, Forde immigrates to Canada and turns to writing. He receives an Order of Canada medal the day he visits a fellow novelist suffering from Parkinson’s whose career Forde is asked to help revive. In the short story “Ceazer Salad,” Forde walks about Ottawa and rails at misused apostrophes and other abominations after his latest book is panned. The title story shows him with a travel group venting his spleen during a guided tour of Turkish cultural attractions. Both short stories also feature Forde’s wife, Sheila, and the combative affection of their conversation, recalling Nick and Nora Charles of Hammett’s Thin Man. Metcalf (An Aesthetic Underground, 2015, etc.), a highly regarded Canadian writer born in 1938 whose life resembles Forde’s, also brings to mind variously Wodehouse, Waugh, Kingsley Amis, and Kyril Bonfiglioli. The jewel of the collection is the other novella, Lives of the Poets, in which Forde plays willing ear as the granddaughter of a 19th-century poet reminisces over the course of a long slow day and night in page after page of marvelous dialogue, the two discovering their shared tastes for precision in language, forgotten rituals, obscure artifacts, and drinking.

Metcalf applies wit, humor, and fine writing to themes of friendship, culture, commitment, and integrity—and all the petty things in life that seek to quash them. This is a book that could restore anyone’s faith in the pleasure of reading.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-177196-107-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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.


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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