THE OLD GENTS

Yglesias's last novel, published by the same house that has recently issued the Break-In (p. 259) and a collection of the author's stories (see above). This gently droll valedictory is made up of the first-person musings of Germ†n Moran, an eightysomething novelist recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Moran, who has stopped writing except for daily jottings in a desk calendar, is trying to live out his remaining days with as much dignity as his three loving, prying sons—also writers—will allow him, when an encounter with an enchanting young neighbor suddenly convinces him that he must carry on for her sake. And so Moran finds himself competing romantically with his middle son and two of his neighbors for the attention of a woman 60 years his junior, while also searching for a miracle cure for his illness. Moran tells this story in the witty (if meandering) tone given him by Yglesias, warning the reader at the outset that ``if you stick with me, I shall stray.'' And stray he does, pausing to consider his roots in the Cuban-American section of Tampa, delivering several diatribes against the ex-wife he calls Fatso, and offering recollections of his old political struggles (the novel is particularly astute in its rendering of the lives and regrets of aging devotees of the '30s left). Eventually, though, the old man must face the reality of his situation, surrendering to age, if not to death, learning that even the miracle cure he has found won't stave off the inevitable forever. The final movement here feels severely truncated, as if death had crept up on the author before he had fully plotted the ending, but until those rushed last pages, this is a shrewdly written, bittersweet work. An unsatisfyingly abrupt ending can't dim the glow of the low-key pleasures to be had here.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-55885-161-5

Page Count: 176

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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