Accomplished, risk-taking, exciting new work from one of our most interesting writers.

BLACK GLASS

SHORT FICTIONS

Fifteen ferociously imaginative and provocative new stories from the author of a previous collection (Artificial Things, not reviewed) and the highly regarded novels Sarah Canary (1991) and The Sweetheart Season (1996).

There are three different kinds of stories here: vignettes that elliptically portray women's fantasies of escaping the figurative (and sometimes literal) prisons men build for them; more fully developed tales of girls and women in and out of love with variously disappointing partners; and revisionist comedies (Fowler has been called ``an American Angela Carter''), in which the fantastic and magical-realist elements that crop up in her novels are central and crucial. The best of these latter include the title story, where temperance crusader Carry Nation returns to life, to the consternation of a henpecked DEA agent; the moving ``Lieserl,'' in which Albert Einstein learns of the birth of his illegitimate daughter, but excuses his neglect by claiming ``experience is a hindrance to the scientist''; and ``The Faithful Companion at Forty,'' a piece distinguished both by wickedly rendered contemporary psychobabble and by Tonto's exasperation over the Lone Ranger's disrespect for him (``You want to bet even Attila the Hun had a party on his fortieth?''). Fowler stumbles with murky stories about impaired father-daughter relationships (``The Elizabeth Complex,'' ``Go Back'') and in an overattenuated exploration of young moderns' sexual politics and role-playing (``The View from Venus: a case study''). But she's at her best in a heart-tugging story of a woman war-protestor's separation from the pacifist intellectual who was the love of her youth (``Letters from Home''); the fascinating ``Duplicity,'' about a woman who seeks and unfortunately finds an alternative to her unadventurous lover; and ``Game Night at the Fox and Goose,'' in which an abandoned pregnant woman's encounter with a female who promises her entry into ``another universe where the feminist force was just a little stronger'' reaches an astonishing climax.

Accomplished, risk-taking, exciting new work from one of our most interesting writers.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-5557-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

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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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