Novelist and short-story writer Flanagan retains her acerbic tone and dark vision in this second collection (after Bad Girls, 1985), with results alternately incisive and blunt. An ``ages of woman'' theme loosely binds these diverse tales, whose female protagonists range from terrified children to old ladies on the lam. The stronger offerings turn an expatriate American's cold gaze on English xenophobia. In ``Mrs. Tiggywiggle Goes to Town,'' for example, a struggling single mother resents her best friend, Alison, a normally kindly, upper-middle-class homemaker who nevertheless later cracks and assaults a Pakistani mother and child. ``The Octopus Vase'' shows English homebuyers virtually destroying both a Greek island and an idealistic woman— in a genteel way, of course. Racism mingles with misogyny in the title story when an English editor rants against ``yobs'' in a Greek cafe, then turns his venom on his young lover: ``You'll sit in cafes, wrinkled and ridiculous and menopausal.'' Professional men come off poorly, from the abusive husband of ``When I'm Bad'' to a slick urbanite who treats a young drifter to a chic restaurant meal in ``Alice's Ear'' (that severed appendage is found the next morning in the park). Despite a flair for dialogue and visual detail, Flanagan often fails to make her emotional landscape convincing. ``Bye-Bye, Blackbird'' closes with a genteel Mrs. Dallowayesque character, forsaken by children and a male friend, on her knees in garden mud, trying to rescue a wounded bird from a tomcat. Here and elsewhere, though, the victim is treated dismissively—where she seeks to be dispassionate, the author seems instead to abandon empathy. It's as if Flanagan is in a hurry, trying to let extremity in situation or detail—a purple wedding dress, say—substitute for emotional resonance. A readable collection that chooses sensation over depth.

Pub Date: April 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-393-03803-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995

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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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