A strange and not altogether satisfying mix: newcomer Vaswani takes up certain themes, but her work seems not to have found...



Thirteen stories by Indian-American Vaswani.

The experiences of immigrants (or of their children) who have come to America but not quite found their feet here provides much of Vaswani’s material in stories that play with the notions of culture and homeland from a variety of perspectives. The protagonist of “Bing-Chen,” for example, is a half-Chinese, half-American adolescent who ventures into Chinatown for a haircut and reflects on his own inability to feel truly at home in either white or Asian society. In “Domestication of an Imaginary Goat,” a young Indian woman in New York fantasizes with her American boyfriend about the home that she knows they will never have. Some of the tales are set abroad: The title story, for instance, is about the travails of a young orphaned girl living in a Catholic boarding school in India during an election riot, while “Sita and Mrs. Durber” follows a schoolteacher in India who tries to help a precocious but withdrawn girl. “Bolero” is the story of a boy who grows up on a farm during the Spanish Civil War and manages with some difficulty to emigrate to America, where he studies at Juilliard and goes on to become an orchestra conductor, while “Blue, Without Sorrow” offers a short family history from the perspective of a melancholy Mexican woman who recovered from a mortal illness as a girl and later moves to Arizona (after her father dies). There are also simpler stories that stand stylistically apart from the rest, like “The Rigors of Dance Lessons,” about a husband and wife who (in what becomes an apparent metaphor of their marriage) sign up for dance lessons.

A strange and not altogether satisfying mix: newcomer Vaswani takes up certain themes, but her work seems not to have found an overriding focus or coherence.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-889330-96-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet