Despite some pronounced highs and lows, a welcome gathering that showcases an unusually energetic and entertaining new...

WORD JIG

NEW FICTION FROM SCOTLAND

A vivid mix of realism and fantasy (distinguished by editor Carter as “the gritty down-to-earth . . . [and work of] a profound metaphysical and fantastical bent”), in an engaging collection of prose poems, short stories, and novel excerpts by 26 young Scottish authors.

The briefer pieces (most less than a page long) are generally least impressive, partial exceptions being Jen Hadfield’s folklore-derived vignettes and Margaret Downie’s dreamy, imaginative “The Stone” and “Death.” Excerpts from longer works include Andrew Grieg’s offbeat examination of the wary mutual attraction between a young engineer and a tempestuous Western Islander (“Ammonia in Orkney”); Suhayl Saadi’s richly atmospheric look at immigrant South Asian street gangs (“Kings of the Dark House”); and Anne Donovan’s boisterous and delightful tale of an ordinary husband and father smitten with Eastern wisdom, narrated in thick, racy Glaswegian dialect (“Buddha Da”). Nothing else in the volume equals the wry hilarity of Donovan’s spirited little masterpiece, but several of the stories per se are not to be missed. Realism is well served by Edward Clapp’s “Nineteen Things I Remember About the West End of Glasgow,” the ruminations of a student who boards with a down-at-the-heels actress; Valerie Thornton’s sympathetic portrayal of a lonely motherless girl whose “ghost pets” insulate her from boys’ indifferent cruelty (“A Bird in the Hand”); and Tom Murray’s dramatization of the mingled guilt, sorrow and denial felt by an adolescent (“The Boy”) attending the funeral of his best (female) friend. Less conventional tales include Ali Smith’s annoyingly coy explication of how fictions develop (“The Universal Story”); Michael Faber’s astute look at the generation gaps that splinter a vacationing American family (“Vanilla-Bright Like Eminem”); and, notably, Linda Henderson’s contemporary fairy tale about a shepherd cursed with three “grotesque” daughters (“The Waters of Ulhava”).

Despite some pronounced highs and lows, a welcome gathering that showcases an unusually energetic and entertaining new literary culture.

Pub Date: July 15, 2003

ISBN: 1-931236-26-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

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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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