Oates has been publishing short fiction for 40 years. Let's have a Best or Selected Stories, by all means. But, please, no...

FAITHLESS

TALES OF TRANSGRESSION

Another (the 21st, already) ho-hum collection demonstrating both Oates's unceasing productivity and her inexplicable willingness to gather embarrassingly shoddy work together with handfuls of stories actually worth preserving.

For far too many of these slackly written "Tales of Transgression" revisit themes explored in earlier and better work ("We Were Worried About You" is yet another reworking of Oates's classic "First Views of the Enemy") or use material that seems to have been detached from recent novels like Zombie (1995) and Man Crazy (1997). The generic characters and their victims are familiar figures in the Oates canon, presented here with only slight variations. The "Lover," for instance, stalks the man who abandoned her; in "The Stalker," a victim of sexual violence becomes a neurasthenic paranoid; the protagonist of "Murder-Two," an idealistic defense attorney, surrenders to infatuation with her matricidal teenaged client; and the narrator of "A Manhattan Romance" clings to borderline-incestuous adoration of her suave "Daddy," a corrupt attorney who had used his child as a hostage before killing himself. Oates stretches farther still in "Tusk," which portrays a 13-year-old malcontent plotting a high-school killing spree, and "*In Copland,*" the overheated story of an investigative journalist's surreal experience of police violence. Only in the deftly structured "What Then, My Life?," in which the sources of an elderly woman's seeming "hatred" of her granddaughter are subtly revealed, and in the atmospheric title story, a skillfully extended anecdote about a mother's disappearance, do we glimpse the harshly realistic, spine-tingling writer Oates can be when she's at her best. But if an unknown writer had sent these stories around (17 of them were first published in magazines), the number rejected would have been high indeed.

Oates has been publishing short fiction for 40 years. Let's have a Best or Selected Stories, by all means. But, please, no more books like Faithless.

Pub Date: March 3, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-018525-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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