THE GUNS IN THE CLOSET

A posthumous gathering of tales by the noted Cuban-American writer (The Old Gents, see below). Yglesias (191995) was an accomplished novelist who, judging from the pieces in this collection, his first and only, used the story form mainly to explore in miniature the themes that supported the more graceful architecture of his novels. Indeed, the last story here, ``An Idea for a Story,'' reads like a rough draft of his final novel, The Old Gents. Running throughout are the key motifs of his body of work, the debt owed to youth by age, the struggle to hold onto the political fervor of one's early years and, most of all, the tensions between Latino and non-Latino in the contemporary US, often as played out in a single person's identity. The best of these stories, ``The Place I Was Born'' and ``An Idea for a Story,'' have a wry, droll humor that serves to underline rather than undercut their basic seriousness. Other entries, particularly the title piece (a tale of a good, gray liberal whose son is involved in the 1968 Columbia University uprising), and ``In the Bronx'' (in which a middle-class Latina is forced to come to grips with her roots in the barrio) are weighed down with topical references that date awkwardly. For all the obvious sincerity of his political commitments, Yglesias is most inspired when writing about the micro-politics of family life and sex, as in ``Celia's Family'' and ``The Place I Was Born.'' It is useful to have his stories collected in one volume, but it's also clear that Yglesias was always a more effective writer when he worked on a larger canvas.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-55885-182-8

Page Count: 185

Publisher: Arte Público

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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