Honor amid poverty from a still-growing voice.



Texan Casares debuts with nine stories about economic hardship and emotional resourcefulness in a cross-cultural zone straddling the US-Mexico border.

The pieces here—set in Brownsville, way, way south in Lone Star country—are broken into three categories with individual titles in an attempt to make them work as groups, but it’s a needless artifice. The opener (“Mr. Z”) tells of a young boy’s first job experience at a fireworks stand—an opportunity to lose economic innocence by giving away as many roman candles as he sells; “R.G.” is about a man’s intimate relationship with his hammer—his tools are his life—as he lends it to a better-off neighbor who promptly forgets the loan and comes to believe the hammer is his. In the next subgroup of stories we find “Domingo,” who works in the yard of a well-off gringo lady and contemplates his hopeless state and dead daughter while yet managing to find grace and faith in labor. In the final group, “Jerry Fuentes” is the funeral salesman swindler who takes a young narrator and his wife for a ride; “Yolanda” is the beautiful neighbor in whose imagined arms a teenaged narrator finds hope of better times that aren’t in the offing; and “Mrs. Perez” is an aging woman who finds meaning in a depressed world through bowling, of all things, and pride in her cherry-red ball that stands for fading allure. But what will happen when she witnesses the ball stolen before her very eyes and the thief turns out to be a relative? Casares’s prose is crisp and efficient, but he relies too heavily on an expected sympathy for the disenfranchised, and one wishes that the Español we get here—meant to paint a truly Hispanic world—went beyond the first three weeks of Spanish 101.

Honor amid poverty from a still-growing voice.

Pub Date: March 6, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-14680-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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