LaSalle’s prose is lyrical, at times rhapsodic, and his characters memorable.

SLEEPING MASK

Twelve stories in a range of styles, each haunting and evocative.

In the title story, LaSalle creates a menacing atmosphere involving a sleeping mask, “black velvet on the inside...magenta satin, shimmery, on the outside.” A man offers it to his lover, who is never named and who never speaks. As he talks to her smoothly and incessantly, their relationship remains dark, mysterious, and disturbing. “What Can’t Not Happen” at first seems a straightforward narrative of a group of college students visiting art museums in Paris. They go to the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, but something’s weirdly out of kilter, for they’re visiting late at night...and it turns out they’re all dead. Two of LaSalle’s experimental stories go in wildly different directions: “Found Fragment from the Report on the Cadaver Dogs of Northern Maine, 1962” consists of a single sentence in turbulent stream-of-consciousness, while “E.A.P.: A Note” reads like a scholarly article—complete with footnotes—on several telling dreams of Edgar Allan Poe. In addition to these experiments in fiction, LaSalle handles “realistic” stories particularly well, though he rarely strays far from a dreamlike atmosphere. Perhaps the best piece in the collection is the final one, “A Late Afternoon Swim,” in which the narrator reminisces about a time when he was 11 or 12 and was encouraged by his mother to go swimming at a beach club in Rhode Island, an act about which he feels apprehensive. The narrator uses a French reference book his mother was reading at the time as a catalyst to move back and forth between memory and reality, chagrin and resentment, past and present.

LaSalle’s prose is lyrical, at times rhapsodic, and his characters memorable.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942658-18-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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