A rich study of family ties, romantic failings and cultural disconnection told in crisp, clean prose.

QUARANTINE

Debut short-story collection explores the lives of gay Indian-American men caught between multiple cultures.

The quarantine in Mehta’s eponymous story is not a medical situation but a kind of forced cultural dislocation imposed, as quarantines often are, for the benefit of those secreted away. Typically it’s the elderly parents of Indian immigrants who must endure a painful relocation to move in with their adult children who are bound by competing feelings of duty and guilt. Trapped in a country they don’t understand, they lash out at their reluctant caretakers. The stories are told by fully assimilated American-born grandchildren who sometimes know less about India then their grandparents know about America. That many of the stories are set in West Virginia and all of the narrators are gay makes for a unique worldview. “Citizen,” a sweet story about a young man’s attempts to help his senile grandmother prepare for American citizenship, displays a comic touch, whereas “Quarantine” and “A Better Life,” which open and close the collection, are considerably darker. Mehta is also interested in same-sex relationships, especially when they are on the verge of failing. These stories of couples on life support offer an abundance of bittersweet moments. Not only must these young men navigate the minefields that all people in love must meander through, but they must also deal with the strain of explaining their homosexuality to parents who grew up in cultures far less permissive than those in which they have raised their children. A mother’s pragmatic question—“So who does the cooking and cleaning?”—contains as many layers as an onion.

A rich study of family ties, romantic failings and cultural disconnection told in crisp, clean prose.

Pub Date: May 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202045-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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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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