Though Chiusano proves himself a skilled storyteller, connections to Marine Park limit rather than unite these stories. A...



The 17 stories in Chiusano’s debut collection center on the people and events in a remote neighborhood of southeast Brooklyn.

Many of these stories feature family dramas and childhood memories with several recurring characters, most notably two brothers, Lorris and Jamison. Chiusano paints a vivid portrait of Marine Park, a strangely provincial portion of the city. An eccentric neighbor pets the children’s heads in “Palming,” the brothers ride the bus alone to buy Christmas presents in “Open Your Eyes,” and the same barber cuts residents' hair for years in “Haircut.” At their strongest, the stories uncover forgotten truths of youth, as when the narrator of “Air-Conditioning” remembers the “spring of people breaking their wrists.” But the quiet tales bleed into each other, and the scenes and characters soon feel too familiar. When Chiusano does break his established patterns, he finds varying levels of success. “Vincent and Aurora” opens with the routines of an older married couple but takes a surprising, action-packed twist that reads like a thriller and feels out of place. “Clean,” a similar misfit, follows the outbreak and spread of a strain of herpes among a group of friends in the 1970s. On the other end of the spectrum is “We Were Supposed,” a stylistic standout. The two-page story of run-on sentences is a litany of lost opportunities that builds a mosaic of a life unlived. “We were supposed to go see a movie, get coffee, return calls, kiss, be alone, share a meal together…” it begins. “Shatter the Trees and Blow Them Away” also benefits from deviating from the standard, traveling farthest from the titular setting. The story occurs in New Mexico at the testing facility for the atomic bomb during World War II. The love story that unfolds, while predictable, is told in stunning language and is a refreshing change from the typical themes of Chiusano’s work.        

Though Chiusano proves himself a skilled storyteller, connections to Marine Park limit rather than unite these stories. A reader begins to wish Chiusano, like his characters, could break free.

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-14-312460-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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