Though the circumstances here are often dismally bleak, at her best Buckingham offers glimmers of pale but definite hope.

THE EXPENSE OF A VIEW

Buckingham’s 14 stories about loss, abandonment, and loneliness won the 2016 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction.

Wherever they live, from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Seattle to rural Oregon, the characters here are damaged goods, sometimes to the point of suicidal hopelessness, as in "The Island of Cats,” or merely caricature, like the family of criminals and deadbeats in “The Grandmother’s Vision.” Whether the cause is actual abandonment, as in “Three of Swords,” or a parent’s death, in “How to Make an Island,” the result tends to be a fearful adult like Myer in “Thinking About Carson,” who is unable to sustain a relationship. But not always. One of the most moving stories, “Festival,” concerns two teenage parents, Sheila and Nick, attending a music festival with their baby, Michelle; escaping troubled families, the two seem doomed to fail as parents and as a couple, especially Nick, who meanders through the festival wishing he could return to his former carefree irresponsibility. But as he grudgingly begins to accept the mantle of dependable adulthood, he discovers the grace of loving his child. Less intense is the examination of lost possibilities, represented in the story “Honey” by a dead dog, or of unadorned loneliness examined in the title story about a young woman whose attempt to break up with her boyfriend doesn’t quite work out. The fragility of children figures prominently in some of the best stories. In “My Old Man,” a mother caring for her cancer-ridden 7-year-old son learns to do whatever it takes; “Night Train” weaves a powerful web of memories while exploring a man’s mix of guilt and grief over his son’s accidental death; and in “Blue Plastic Shades,” the travails of a small boy grappling with his mother’s mysterious disappearance and his father, who's lost to grief, gradually soften into a possibility that father and son might heal together.

Though the circumstances here are often dismally bleak, at her best Buckingham offers glimmers of pale but definite hope.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-57441-647-3

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Univ. of North Texas Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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