Winner of Bread Loaf's 1996 Bakeless Prize, Hester's debut collection of eight stories (three previously published) explores the marginal life in Georgia and Texas, where people struggle mightily just to keep from going under. For instance, there's Leah in ``Deadman's Float,'' a young girl unhappily adrift at a Girl Scout summer camp. Leah isn't one of the best or brightest girls, but managing to survive the swimming test and peer put-downs is nothing compared to what she has to face at home, where older brother J.D. takes his rage at his father's departure out on their mother—until the police intervene. ``Alarm'' features a dying neighborhood in Austin, Texas, where ex- junkie Tyler and his girl Holly settle in search of peace only to learn that their neighbor across the street is a dealer. For a living Tyler installs security systems in the homes of Austin's elite, but he can do little against the Peeping Toms and burglars who terrorize his own neighborhood; when he loses the money from a paycheck he's just cashed, he can't even do anything to keep Holly from thinking he's back on smack. In a sort of sequel (``Grand Portage''), junkie Donny loses his girlfriend Delilah, who runs off with his best friend, Errol. But Errol has his own monkey on his back: He's on a hopeful mission from Texas to the Canadian border to see his father, who left him more than 20 years before—a mission doomed to fail. Finally, the title piece concerns another broken family, this one affluent, consisting of a brother who survives delinquency to become a TV weatherman, a sister who's mired in the same self-destructive lifestyle he once knew, and their defeated, alcoholic mother. Powerful, frank studies of despair in the midst of decay: crystallizations of what's left when the American dream dries up and blows away.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1997

ISBN: 0-87451-823-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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