A tremendous new voice; a writer of immense talent and depth.

FOREIGN SOIL

In this aptly named story collection by Clarke (The Hate Race, 2016), an Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean heritage, people living in various countries struggle to build better lives for themselves.

In the title story, Millie Lucas, a pretty teenage girl from a poor Jamaican farming family, is sent to work in a Kingston sewing shop, which her parents see as a step up in the world for her, only to fall victim to a man's seduction. In the deeply haunting “David,” the lives of two Sudanese women living in Australia intersect: one is older, more traditional, and still traumatized by the shooting of her young child in the war back home; the other is a younger, more modern single mom who has just left her son’s father because he “was no good.” Here, the gap between generations that, at first, gives the older woman a negative judgment of the younger woman’s life choices gives way to a single, cathartic moment of human connection. Then there is the story of Harlem Jones, whose West Indian immigrant mother wants him to make more of his life than his absent father and incarcerated brother have managed to do with theirs since the family settled in London. “Ye need te pull yeself together, Harlem," is his mother’s ongoing refrain. "Ye father an I never come te dis country te raise delinquent children." Clarke fully inhabits the voices of her characters—a masterful feat given their wide range of age, gender, race, country of origin, and country of residence. While many of the stories explore the lives of immigrants, the characters are not stereotypes or stand-ins to further a political ideology; they are simply people caught in situations ranging from the desperate to the more mundane, trying to live their lives the best way they know how.

A tremendous new voice; a writer of immense talent and depth.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3636-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: 37 Ink/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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