This delightful collection of short fiction sketches Southern life of the past.

Make Yourselves at Home

AND OTHER STORIES

Writer and Episcopal priest Elberfeld offers this short but charming collection of quintessential Southern short stories (The Lady of the House, 2013).

Elberfeld’s eight short stories—set primarily in Georgia in the indefinite past (most likely early to mid-20th century)—differ in themes but share a distinct Dixie flavor. Most feature a dominant woman or, in the case of the first story, “Brotherly Love,” a domineering woman. The men are altogether absent or, if physically present, psychologically or otherwise troubled. “Cicadas” and the title entry focus on unhappy married women—throwbacks to another generation when wives stayed home—feeling helpless in their difficult relationships. In both cases, the women eventually abandon their marriages but in very different ways. Both “It’s a Blessing” and “The Boardinghouse Reach” include male characters whose lives are irrevocably impacted—and cut short—by accidents of birth. The devoted mothers who bore and subsequently mourn them elicit tremendous emotion. Bobby Lee, the funeral singer in “Ten Bucks,” is the lone male protagonist in the collection, but he, a disembodied vocalist who fantasizes about how he will spend his earnings while mourners suffer on the other side of a curtain, doesn’t emerge as a sympathetic character. Similarly, “Ten Bucks” is also the only story that emphasizes friendship over family. Despite the differences among stories, they are united by a memorable voice, unique and engaging while reminiscent of other great voices of Southern literature. Aside from the significant fact that the stories take place in the rural or small-town South, animating place details aren’t developed.

This delightful collection of short fiction sketches Southern life of the past.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-56474-572-9

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Daniel & Daniel Publishers

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2015

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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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