Every story is beautifully located in place and period, edging toward grace rather than postmodern irony, and peopled by...

PULP AND PAPER

Eight stories comprise Rolnick’s debut collection, winner of the University of Iowa Press’s 2011 John Simmons Short Fiction Award.

The opening section, "New Jersey," begins with two stories of loss. "Funnyboy" focuses on a father who cannot accept the death of his son, and Rolnick’s piercing phrases sharpen the sense of unrelenting bereavement. "Innkeeping" follows young Will as he and his mother attempt to keep the family's seaside inn open. A growing realization descends, and Will learns he cannot replace his father, killed at sea, cannot hold the hard world at bay, nor can he choose how his mother will live. In "The Herald," "something propulsive and intense and irresistible" drives a veteran reporter past common sense only to be rescued by a curmudgeonly editor. In "Mainlanders," two teen boys immersed in their Jersey shore idyllic life meet two city girls and get a glimpse of what they cannot have but may someday find off-island. In the second section, Rolnick moves his stories to New York. "Pulp and Paper" contrasts loyalty and sacrifice against a man-made disaster. Particularly affecting is "Big River." Garnet and Finch, a year past high school, companions since childhood, lovers, find themselves expecting a baby. Garnet feels hemmed in by the inescapable demands of incipient motherhood and by the rural landscape to which Finch is tied. Also powerfully emotional is "Big Lake." Molly Cage falls through the ice and drowns, an accident that also costs her husband Jack his arm. Flip, 13 years old and entranced with Molly, is trapped between truth and fear and love and guilt. The collection ends with "The Carousel." Rubin inherited a Coney Island carousel from his father, with the words, "it can sometimes make you happy," words which both charm and become elegy.

Every story is beautifully located in place and period, edging toward grace rather than postmodern irony, and peopled by characters coping with love and loss.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60938-052-6

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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