Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective, burnished by the ennui of a soulless collectivist state, contemplating the...


Petrushevskaya’s (There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, 2009) short stories transform the mundane into the near surreal, pausing only to wink at the absurdity of it all.

The literary collection opens with an informed and knowledgeable introduction by translator Summers, a literary editor born in Moscow. Petrushevskaya, first celebrated as a journalist and a playwright with her prose only published after glasnosthere writes of characters, women most eloquently, mired in environs so dull as to focus their attention toward drink, sex and, most critical of all, a decent apartment in which to live. In “A Murky Fate,” a lonely spinster pleads with her mother for privacy to entertain a lover; “insensitive and crude,” yet an assignation that brings fulfillment. In “The Goddess Parka,” a penniless provincial schoolteacher is seduced by his vacation landlord’s distant cousin. “Like Penelope” chronicles an alliance between Oksana, “a girl beloved by her mother but no one else,” and Mischa, whose hand-me-downs Oksana wore. In “Two Deities,” an older woman and young man contemplate their son, the product of a “few minutes of half-naked passion on the cramped kitchen sofa.” The most unconventional is “Hallelujah, Family!” four lives laid out in a list of the 45 notes. Then comes “Give Her to Me,” about a struggling composer and lyricist but beyond the starving artist cliché. In “Milgrom,” a Lithuanian beauty is robbed of her son.  The four concluding stories are “The Adventures of Vera,” “Ero’s Way,” “Young Berries” and “A Happy Ending,” where an STD infects a marriage with hate. In these tales of pessimism and gloom, stoicism and resolution, life real and life absurd, Petrushevskaya delivers 17 stories in four groups, many of them cold, dark and vodka-drenched; some rampant with alcoholism and cruelty; and nearly all struggling in contemplation of soul-damaged men and maternal women.

Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective, burnished by the ennui of a soulless collectivist state, contemplating the influence of culture and politics on love and relationships.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-14-312152-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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