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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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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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