With verisimilitude, compassion, and a surprising amount of nobility, Skinner navigates the mean streets of New Mexico with...

THE TOMBSTONE RACE

STORIES

Fourteen heartfelt stories about the hardscrabble Latino experience in New Mexico.

Like his contemporary Claire Vaye Watkins, Skinner (Flight and Other Stories, 2001, etc.) has a nuclear focus on a person's sense of self in the context of a physical place. He continues this style in these lovingly crafted short stories about the denizens of the desert Southwest. In “The Edge,” young Osvaldo and his crew of homies are partying at the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge when one of them falls into the canyon. Another story, “Solidarity,” bookends the male experience in a way. Two former campus radicals encounter each other during a job interview on campus only to discover how much old men change even while angry young men remain the same, often for good reasons. In “Looking Out," Skinner tackles the dangers of postmodern romanticism in depicting two young people talking about the sublime landscape around them. One asks the other, “If you woke up from your life, would you tell it as a beautiful dream, or as a nightmare?” If there’s a consistent theme throughout the collection it’s doubt in the face of one’s authenticity. Dedicated student Danny Sanchez loses his computer in “Backing Up” only to wonder if he deliberately set himself up to be drawn into gang life. In “Clean,” a junkie becomes so convinced of his own poisoned nature that, as his parole officer says, he just doesn’t know when to quit. It’s a photo album of desperate lives, but there’s a lot of poetry in the writing, too. In “My Dealer, In Memoriam,” a junkie considers his options after his dealer kicks it. “I’m going to have to start panhandling to scrape up enough change to score whatever filthy, stepped-on shit I can find on the street,” he tells us, knowing the score.

With verisimilitude, compassion, and a surprising amount of nobility, Skinner navigates the mean streets of New Mexico with cunning and grace.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8263-5627-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more