A few gems, a few disappointments, a voice to watch.

BABE IN PARADISE

STORIES

An uneven first collection from writer/filmmaker Silver.

All the characters in these nine stories grapple with the promises that Los Angeles makes but inevitably falls short on. In the title piece, Babe and Delia struggle in vain to hoist buckets of water onto the roof of their rental house in the path of L.A.’s yearly firestorm. It’s just another losing battle, emblematic of their life together crisscrossing America, although this one is worse because it happens in paradise, at the edge of the ocean and the end of the road. Babe turns up in two other stories, a little bit older and a little more hopeless each time. “What I Saw from Where I Stood,” first published in the New Yorker, depicts a young couple getting carjacked and becoming increasingly paranoid. Another young couple, midwesterners hoping to break into the movies, search for a new house with the right image (“Statues”), only to find themselves in the den of old-time pornographers. One of the standouts here, “The Missing,” shows Marianna, a scientist picking over the bones of the past at the La Brea Tar Pits, and her brother Julian, a junkie living on the celebrity fringe, watching in confusion as their usually reticent mother, Dora, decides to give lectures about her survival of the Holocaust. Having never heard the stories herself, Marianna sits in awe among bored teenaged girls as Dora states, “I was afraid that when I said these words, I would start to scream. But now I think I have been screaming all my life.” Also fine is “Gunsmoke,” about a daughter who does voice work in the movies hesitantly reconnecting with her father, once a successful stuntman but now a virtual recluse. Disillusionment is rife, and each of the characters wanders in a perpetual half-land between glamorous salvation and keen disappointment. As one concludes, “Now they could stop looking for Los Angeles, which seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”

A few gems, a few disappointments, a voice to watch.

Pub Date: July 23, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-02003-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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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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