Marvels of craft and insight.


First collection by a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and author of Garner (2005), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times' Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.

Not much happens in these stories—not on the surface, anyway. There’s little in the way of dialogue. Allio tells more than she shows. They succeed, though, because Allio’s protagonists are obsessively observant. A Russian émigré working as a nanny re-examines her own life in the light of minutely confessional letters she receives from a former charge. The attempt to understand her best friend’s death subsumes one woman’s whole existence. A new mother, excruciatingly aware of the intricacies of class and the conflicting demands of gender, “knows she’s privileged to be a housewife looking down (from above) on a housewife.” For Allio’s protagonists, hypervigilance is a necessary condition of survival—because of near-crippling social anxiety, because they’ve been critically wounded by loss, or because they’re enduring an awful combination of the two. “The Other Woman” is exemplary. The daughter of a female university janitor who moonlights as a sociologist, Swan can’t escape the jaded worldview bequeathed to her by an amateur social scientist and lifelong hard-ass. For example, this, at a party honoring Swan’s mother-in-law, "the famous feminist": “I heard her bray above the usual modulations and I thought, Alex has spent her career practicing laughing louder than any man in academia.” Cancer does little to soften Swan’s mother, but it eats at Swan, and some of the story’s most finely wrought passages are Swan’s attempts to describe her fear and, ultimately, her grief. Swan’s voice is so real, her observations about class and race and living and dying so very spot-on, that it will likely take the reader some time to notice that “The Other Woman” follows, in its perfect inevitability, the shape of a fairy tale.

Marvels of craft and insight.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941088-09-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet