Polished, taut writing we want more of.



Spare and edgy fiction by Southern Californian Glatt (A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That, 2004) finds grim humor in soured relationships and bad choices.

Glatt has a sharp eye for catching the incongruous detail that nicely derails her characters’ tidy sense of themselves, such as the gold nose ring worn by the bullying older student in the story “Eggs,” a student who ultimately prods her professor, narrator Lilly Lyle, to push her out of her chair. Lilly exhorts the insulting student to “behave,” all the while denying her own guilt in enjoying phone sex with a married man she met at an academic convention in Arizona. In “The Study of Lightning Injury,” a husband named Mack undergoes a kind of religious conversion after being hit by lightning on a fishing trip with a friend who’d admitted, shortly before the strike, trying to make the moves on Mack’s wife. Mack won’t touch his wife after the accident/revelation, insisting that he is “rewired.” Ultimately, the story grows into a maddening attempt to sort a rational perspective. Similarly, in “Soup,” a widow learns chillingly how unrecognizable her 17-year-old son has become—running with the same group of bullies he was once tormented by. The first story, “Dirty Hannah Gets Hit by a Car,” sets the creepy atmosphere of Southern California, a land “without sidewalks, with lawns and flowerbeds that go right down to the curb,” a seemingly innocuous detail except that Hannah, a schoolgirl whose parents fight ferociously, has to walk to school alone at her own peril. In well-developed tales like “Animals” (the zoologist narrator contends with saving his zoo animals in a heat wave while balancing trust for his untrustworthy wife) and “Ludlow” (a couple of young newlyweds full of self-doubt and good intentions visit the in-laws before the wife’s pregnancy starts showing), Glatt clearly harbors tenderness for the underdog.

Polished, taut writing we want more of.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-7052-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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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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