NIGHTLAND

A Native American Richard Condon might have conjured up this neatly plotted thriller, a wonderful companion to Owens's two previous novels, The Sharpest Sight (1992) and Bone Game (1994). The story begins with a very real bang when part-Cherokee ranchers and lifelong friends Billy Keene and Will Striker come upon a dead body and a suitcase containing a million dollars. It looks as if the body has literally fallen from the sky. ``It's a gift from the Great Spirit,'' Billy insists, but a hail of gunfire from a helicopter makes it seem likely that the Spirit's bounty won't be easy to hold onto. Outwitting their pursuers and hiding their windfall, the two try to settle inconspicuously back into the routines of their hard lives, scraping by in a New Mexico backwater. Events, however, rapidly turn deeply weird. Billy's grandfather Siquani, a believer in the power of the ancestral forces surrounding them, is visited by a ghost (possibly the ghost of the man with the suitcase) who plays checkers with the old man and teaches him how to drive, precipitating one of the plot's many delicious twists and turns. Equally memorable appearances are made by: Will's estranged wife Jace, now a big-city lawyer; Odessa Nighthawk, a steely half-breed Ph.D. whose amorous appropriation of Billy is just a mite suspicious (there's evidence she may be a shape-shifter); and Paco Ortega, a thoughtful drug smuggler who, accompanied by a hilariously foulmouthed gunsel, comes to claim all that belongs to him. Owens skillfully braids together deadpan comedy, Indian legend and superstition, and stringent criticism of White American injustice (``everything in the psyche of this country tells people that they can just put the past behind them, that they aren't responsible for yesterday'') in a swiftly paced tale that's as thoughtful and provocative as it is irresistibly entertaining. Tony Hillerman, take notice. This is how it's done.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-94073-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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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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