A surreal, dark and very funny collection that has the emotional punch of a novel.


Exuberantly odd and emotionally daring stories follow a cast of engaging characters through small-town Texas in Founds’ debut collection.

In the first story of this unusual collection, Laura Freedman asks her high school English class to write about their favorite mystical creatures solving the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. The resulting vignettes—in which a sphinx solves loneliness, a giant squid stops a pregnancy, and a phoenix rescues Ms. Freedman herself from Texas—introduce a young teacher, on her way to a crushing breakdown and a stay in an insane asylum, and two of her students, the disaffected Janice Gibbs and the irrepressible Cody Splunk. Founds follows the lives of these characters through 24 other stories that range in form from email conversations to journal entries to recipes from a fundraising cookbook assembled by a Methodist women’s society. While the structure and tone vary widely, with some stories approaching self-conscious acrobatics, the characters stay vivid throughout, and Founds handles both unhappy and absurd elements with wit, humor and compassion. In “Frankye,” a psychiatric journaling exercise forces Ms. Freedman to write about her young self losing unconditional love via time and regret. Cody and Janice perform two versions of a friendly rescue—one capering and slapstick, one banal—in “Mexico Foxtrot Rides Again,” and they face murderous biblical wax figurines in “In the Hall of Old Testament Miracles.” Each story adds a layer of feeling, understanding and history to the characters as they slide back and forth through time and relationships. They handle, gracefully, the whiplash switch between depression and hilarity, between the ghost of a suicidal mother and a love-struck boy promising to invent a time machine.

A surreal, dark and very funny collection that has the emotional punch of a novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60938-283-4

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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