Hecht shows herself to be a master of both shrewd observation and wistful longing.



Witty and understated stories chronicling intimate realities of everyday life.

Hecht (The Unprofessionals, 2003) uses an unnamed first-person narrator to give continuity to the stories, most of which are set in Nantucket. Although there are occasional allusions to a husband and siblings, the narrator concentrates almost exclusively on the seemingly inconsequential but sprightly details of her personal life. We know, for example, that she is a fierce vegan who disapproves of the sous chef of the local café throwing, as she describes it, animal parts onto a grill. In addition, she has a swooning admiration for Paul McCartney and admits she’s looking for someone just like him—“a vegetarian, musician, animalrights [sic] activist, and garden lover who [lives] in the countryside of [a] civilized country.” It’s clear that she does not think of America as all that civilized, as allusions to the “Alfred E. Neuman” president and his penchant for saying “nucular” make clear. (“Will this never be corrected or brought to the attention of the world?” she wonders.) It’s hard to pick a favorite here, for all the stories are both stark and guileful. In “Being and Nothingness” we meet her psychiatrist, never much help because “he remained a shy, stammering, befuddled person”—though she also cunningly speculates that this might be “just an act he used to control people and get whatever he wanted.” The titular story is a tour de force in which a charming but inept interviewer has extended phone conversations with the narrator, revealing far more about himself than he should.

Hecht shows herself to be a master of both shrewd observation and wistful longing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6425-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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