Published previously in the New Yorker and elsewhere, tales that will seem more empty to some than to others.



Fourteen stories from Tuck (Siam, 1999; The Woman Who Walked on Water, 1996) aim often at intricacy in design but bear the stamp of the mass-produced.

In “La Mayonette,” for example, about two families on a rural vacation in France, tone (curiously distant) and symbolism (a pattern in the wallpaper, a long-ago trip to Egypt) are asked to reveal—well, a woman’s unhappiness, but unhappiness so much without apparent real cause as to be unmoving. The exotic is used also to make more of things than they are in “L’Esprit de L’Escalier,” about a boyfriend, a car accident, and a lunch with Alberto Moravia, all told in an inexplicably parodic style (“You could tell right away by the way Massimo said his Rs that Massimo was not from Rome. Massimo was from the north, from Turin. Massimo knew a lot of people”); and it’s used again in “Rue Guynemer,” about an American woman staying in Paris to recover from a divorce (“At the time when she discovered that her ex-husband was having an affair . . . she was both hurt and angry”), a story that name-drops its way (Scott and Zelda, Françoise Sagan, Stein and Toklas) to an unearned ending. Characters get almost to the edge of gaining roundness, substance, or depth, but a thinness in the soil keeps them from growing. In “Verdi,” a woman on a dude ranch is preoccupied by the Donner Party (“. . . she felt alone. Really alone”); an incipiently religious young girl and her pretty mother wait out WWII in Lima (“Limbo”); and a woman isn’t sure how to act when she joins a father and daughter who swim naked (“Horses”). “Second Wife,” “Next of Kin,” and “Hotter” (set in Laos) are stories of the woe that is in marriage, while “The View from Madama Butterfly’s House” is an oddly artificial tour—told by “we”—of the Nagasaki Museum.

Published previously in the New Yorker and elsewhere, tales that will seem more empty to some than to others.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-620942-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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