Bluntly powerful but deeply nuanced stories from a unique voice in American fiction.

IN THIS LIGHT

NEW & SELECTED STORIES

An unsettling group portrait of victimized young women whose survival on the margins of American life is its own best, or worst, reward.

Boasting three new stories and selections from Girls in the Grass (1991) and First, Body (1997), this overview captures Thon at her tough, unremittingly intense, unflinching best. In settings ranging from Native American Montana to blue-collar Boston to a Georgia plantation in the 1850s, we are ushered into a bleak world of hard backseat sex and trailer-park traumas, unreported killings and numbing Vietnam flashbacks, heartless punishments and backcountry skirmishes that wouldn't be out of place on Elmore Leonard's Kentucky-set F/X series, Justified. "You have to believe something's going to happen" says the protagonist of one of the earliest stories, Iona Moon, but what happens in this book never lives up to her vision of bright lights illuminating the night. "Father, Lover, Deadman, Dreamer" is about a teenage girl who drunkenly runs over a Native American man and is forever haunted by efforts to conceal the crime. "Heavenly Creatures" is a multipart mini-epic about three half-siblings with different fathers and a mother in prison for fencing stolen bicycles. In "Punishment," a young female slave who witnesses a rape kills the baby she is brought in to nurse. Thon writes in short, jabbing, bruising sentences, never letting up on her verbal attack. Her words can be fiercely poetic or streaked with mysticism. If there's a drawback to her stories (she also has written four novels), it's that her thin-hipped, flat-chested girls are largely interchangeable. Only the source of their psychological scarring changes, ranging from incest to drug dependence to missing and/or alcoholic fathers and mothers. But that doesn't diminish the boldness or originality of this increasingly impressive body of work.

Bluntly powerful but deeply nuanced stories from a unique voice in American fiction.

Pub Date: May 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-55597-585-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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