From a distinguished Southern writer, a very fine collection capped by a masterful novella.

EVENINGLAND

A quiet, beautifully modulated group of six short stories and a novella set in or near Mobile, Alabama.

Knight (The Typist, 2010, etc.) focuses mostly on characters who belong, as he says with gentle irony, to "the right kind of Mobile family." These are for the most part white Southerners working with—and sometimes against—hereditary privilege: an older generation of male real estate moguls, shipping magnates, lawyers, marina owners and their well-meaning but insulated children, who must grapple with the shadows thrown by these gruff, un-self-conscious self-made men, who, as one of the younger generation puts it, "could take up space like nobody in the world." Knight's style is deceptively plainspoken, with low-key wit and a laconic precision that often ripens, as a story proceeds, into poignancy. One standout, "Jubilee," focuses on a middle-aged bourgeois cliché, a 50th-birthday bash at a grand hotel, but does so with such deftness and delicacy that the reader is ambushed, in the end, by mingled envy, pity, and empathy. As Dean and Kendra walk along the boardwalk toward the party and spy their assembled friends inside, there's a frisson of nerves, a kiss quickly wiped away, and finally a bittersweet revelation, half joy and half caution: "They must stay this course until the end." But the centerpiece and triumph of the collection is its closing novella, Landfall, which tells with enormous finesse, speed, and concision, like a family saga in demi-glace reduction, the mingled stories of a shipyard-owning family—the widow of the paterfamilias, her daughter and two sons, the daughter's two daughters, one son's beloved dog—as a hurricane bears down on Mobile.

From a distinguished Southern writer, a very fine collection capped by a masterful novella.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2597-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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