Dark and sexually violent, Shepard's work can disturb—but her sharp prose and insights into the human psyche make it worth...


Women bear the dark consequences of infidelity, lies, and other betrayals.

Novelist Shepard (The Celestials, 2013, etc.) has turned her keen eye to short fiction centered on the underbellies of the lives and relationships of women. The opening story, “Popular Girls,” about private school students in New York, begins with an almost anthropological survey: “You know who we are. We’re Kaethe and Alina, CJ and Sydney, Stephanie. We’re Asian or Scandinavian, white or vaguely black.” But if the reader expects an overview of Manhattan mean girls, the story quickly turns even more barbed than that when the popular girls—sophomores in high school—get into a limo with some strange men and end up, via a nightclub, at a strange apartment. Though the collective narrator admits to feeling “uneasy,” the story ends, “Do with us what you dare. Do with us what you can.” The chill of this ending shadows the whole book. In “Fire Horse,” a woman courts an incestuous affair with her brother. In “Girls Only,” the memory of their failure to help a friend during a sexual assault haunts a group of bridesmaids. Although many of the stories investigate the tangled aftermath of sexual anguish—from affairs with married men to gang rape—the greatest stories in this collection, “Light as a Feather” and “A Fine Life,” both look at relationships between a daughter and a parent. These stories take Shepard’s fascination with cruelty and soften those edges. “Light as a Feather” juxtaposes a stillbirth with the narrator’s relationship with her mother, who suffers from dementia. “A Fine Line” examines a woman’s unusual career path working with chimps and her past as a defector from communist China.

Dark and sexually violent, Shepard's work can disturb—but her sharp prose and insights into the human psyche make it worth the read.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-75-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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