With precise storytelling, Martin chronicles the unrest in his characters’ lives and the shocking moments when tensions...

THE MUTUAL UFO NETWORK

Quiet traumas and long-festering emotional wounds abound in this collection.

Elucidating the tensions that can arise over a long period of intimacy, or that can emerge from an unspoken sense of resentment, can be a difficult thing to pull off in fiction. At their best, the stories in Martin’s (Late One Night, 2016, etc.) collection offer an impressive demonstration of just how to convey these trying emotional states. Martin’s stories frequently encompass decades’ worth of events in the lives of their characters. Ancil and Lucy, the couple at the center of “The Last Civilized House,” have been together for 55 years as the story opens. When Lucy reconnects with an old flame, there’s a weight to the accumulation of events and a power that keeps the narrative unpredictable as secrets and resentments slowly come to the foreground. There’s plenty of tension in these tightly wound connections between characters. The protagonist of “Bad Family,” Lily Chang, recalls coming-of-age in China in the time of Chairman Mao. Since then, years have passed; she’s now living in Nebraska, maintaining an unlikely bond with her ex-husband and his new wife. Her decision to begin sending anonymous, threatening letters to the couple complicates matters—but it also feels somewhat arbitrary, an unexpectedly violent act whose motives and consequences require more space to fully explore. But the best of these stories also showcase an impressive restraint: The narrator of the title story gives a detailed account of his bonds with each of his estranged parents, but passing allusions to certain events—one character’s time in prison, for example—create an even grander sense of interconnection. Sudden moments of violence outnumber epiphanies in these stories, and the effect creates a quiet melancholy.

With precise storytelling, Martin chronicles the unrest in his characters’ lives and the shocking moments when tensions reach their breaking points.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945814-49-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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