A gorgeous collection from a writer too often overlooked.


Stories about women that describe the everyday as well as the transcendent.

In the first story in this fine collection, a woman is walking home alone in the dark. Then a man hits her over the head from behind. It’s a spectacular act of violence, but the story doesn’t go in any direction you might reasonably expect. Instead, the woman, Irene, turns around and starts to speak with her assailant. “Don’t shout so loud,” she tells him, “someone might hear us.” “What on earth were you up to,” he asks, “all alone in the dark?” Then they divvy up the contents of her purse. They part on friendly terms. The story was first published in 1949; Bourdouxhe (Marie, 2001), who wrote in French, lived in Brussels and in Paris, where she befriended Simone de Beauvoir, among other luminaries. Her stories typically focus on women: their inner lives as well as the mundane details that occupy their days. In “Louise,” a maid borrows her employer’s nice blue coat for her evening off. In “Blanche,” a housewife daydreams as she washes the dishes and picks leeks in the garden. In every story, the banal becomes intimately intertwined with the sublime. Alone in the woods, Blanche feels a sense of peace. “Not that it was a happy or easy peace—nothing was happy or easy, either inside or outside her; it was a fiery peace, a peace that meant all is well.” Bourdouxhe’s prose is crisp, precise, and always understated. She’s a marvelous writer with an entirely unique vision of the world.

A gorgeous collection from a writer too often overlooked.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78227-513-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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