Stunning strength throughout. The literary world boasts silver-tongued Irishmen and moody regionalists aplenty, but Canty is...



Oregonian Canty proves once again that short fiction (A Stranger in This World, 1994, etc.) best showcases his eloquence of events, a quality more inimitable than beautiful word-whirling.

In novels such as Nine Below Zero (1999), Canty’s dancing sentence fragments tend to cramp up, as if the nature of a long work put too great a crunch on his skill. His stories relax, trim though they are, and without fail hook you firmly time and again. The characters are usually bottoming out, bashed by hard luck but not yet human trash. Well, mostly not trash, but even the trash is given the gift of irony that helps an utterly crushed man rise up smiling, as in the longest piece here, “Little Palaces,” about a wheelchair-bound man living with his dead wife’s twin sister. He can’t give up the van, his little palace, that he had restored after running off the road and killing his wife in it. In the perfect title story, first seen in The New Yorker, “the bride invited only people she had slept with.” Among the jilted are her lesbian lover and a male lover, who now go off boozing together. All the tales stand tall and invite rereading, but the standout is “Carolina Beach.” Its protagonist is a lawyer romancing the bald mother of two. Survivor of a double mastectomy, she now has perhaps six months to live and has built a hard shell against self-pity that he must break through to get her into bed. On a chilly beach walk, he holds her hand: “small and cold and full of bones.”

Stunning strength throughout. The literary world boasts silver-tongued Irishmen and moody regionalists aplenty, but Canty is in a class of his own.

Pub Date: April 17, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-49161-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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