Otherwise, a longstanding literary need somewhat successfully addressed with this collection.



An imposing collection of 35 stories.

Of the 25 stories reprinted here from earlier volumes, the best include a searching treatment of religious experience (“In the Region of Ice”); rich homages to literary masters (“The Dead,” “The Lady with the Pet Dog”); a haunting exploration of spiritualism (“Night-Side”); a nicely detailed racetrack story (“Raven’s Wing”); and one of the author’s creepiest depictions of adolescent sexual confusion (“Heat”). The principle of selection explained in a brief Afterword doesn’t account for the omission of some of Oates’s very best— notably, one of her finest deployments of symbolism, in “First Views of the Enemy” (since reworked in several later stories) and the compact Dreiserian masterpiece “Waiting.” The new stories vary in quality largely according to the degree to which they’re overplotted. “*BD* 11 1 87,” for example, painstakingly builds a wrenching characterization of a lonely, orphaned high-school senior inexplicably discouraged from realizing his considerable potential—then throws it away as the story spins into banal near-futuristic fantasy. The title story, about an aging farmer destroyed when he’s caught in a vice squad sting, almost collapses when emphasis shifts to revenge taken on his behalf—but Oates gives it conviction through understatement and deft pacing. “The Lost Brother,” which describes a middleaged woman’s determined, doomed search for her estranged sibling, works brilliantly, as everything left unsaid eloquently ensnares the reader. Other stories deal all too predictably and heatedly with shattered families (“Spider-Boy,” “Soft-Core,” “The Cousins”) and sexual violence (“The Fish Factory,” “The Gathering Squall,” “In Hot May”). Then there’s “Fat Man My Love,” an ironic remembrance of an adipose film-industry giant by one of his “Ice Blondes,” which does to the memory of Alfred Hitchcock what Oates did to Marilyn Monroe in the wretched novel Blonde. Who’s next? Shirley Temple? Dame Edith Evans? Lassie? Enough, already.

Otherwise, a longstanding literary need somewhat successfully addressed with this collection.

Pub Date: April 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-050119-7

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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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.


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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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