Barton is generous and sympathetic toward his characters, no matter how much of a handful they are. A pleasing collection,...

Literate, deftly constructed stories of backwoods Alabama.

It wouldn’t be Southern fiction without a nod to Faulkner, and Barton gets a hint in early: He sets a hayrick on fire, synecdoche for a barn, and lets the smoke linger in the swampy air. Then there’s the land, always a central character in southerly writing: pastures, dark soil, brooding forest, river—the Tennahpush, in this case, as real and as not-real as Yoknapatawpha County. But Barton’s quiet homage and adherence to convention are just that; he’s an original. The opening story finds a folk artist on the point of giving it all up even as the young woman who helps out around the place looks hard at a dreary future. “You haven’t made anything new in a good while, Mr. Hutchins,” she says, yearning for something different from insulin shots, pill bottles and shot glasses. The art that she likes, she declares, involves things that will take a person away from all this; in a nice bit of symmetry, the closing words of the collection also point to the desire to leave a place that holds people fast. Barton’s best moments join human generations to that land in different times: Here a slave, hauntingly speaking of plantation violence, suddenly sees the possibility of an escape seemingly not available to most mortals, and there a modern countryman grapples not just with “crackheads and meth freaks” and other denizens of the bottomlands, but also the possibility of flying saucers. Barton is not a funny writer as such, but there is some sly humor at play, too, as when that flying saucer fellow allows that his daughter might just be a lesbian. “Lois says I make it sound like Margaret’s a monster when I say that. Like I might as well go around telling people that she turned into a werewolf, when I’m really the one who turned into a monster, according to Lois.”

Barton is generous and sympathetic toward his characters, no matter how much of a handful they are. A pleasing collection, humane and well-written.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938235-09-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015



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



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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013