Still, we probably can’t have too much of Carver’s spare, precisely honed prose in print. One hopes a Collected Stories will...

CALL IF YOU NEED ME

THE UNCOLLECTED FICTION AND OTHER PROSE

A presumably final gathering of work left behind by the writer (1938–88) many considered the American Chekhov: a compassionate and artful chronicler of “ordinary” lives.

In her warmhearted foreword, Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher, describes the discovery and preparation for publication of the five stories that are the real raison d’etre of this otherwise patchy volume (most of whose other contents appeared in the miscellanies Fires, 1989, and No Heroics, Please, 1992). “Vandals” and “Call If You Need Me” employ carefully developed images of separation and conflagration to depict relationships unraveling and children afflicted by their parents’ instability (though the title story does contain the marvelous, and perhaps prophetic, image of horses appearing mysteriously in its protagonists’ front yard). “What Would You Like to See?,” a rigorously understated portrayal of a couple whose closeness is threatened by drinking, is a comparatively shapeless and repetitive version of several earlier, superior stories (surely Carver wasn’t done with it). The old magic resurfaces in “Kindling,” a subtle look at an alcoholic writer estranged from his wife (and “between lives”), who seeks stability in performing chores for the couple with whom he boards, a pair whose surface happiness seems merely a variant strain of his own disorientation. “Dreams”—the best of these five—ingeniously dramatizes the limits of our ability to enter imaginatively into others’ lives, while echoing one of Carver’s most deservedly famous stories, “A Small, Good Thing.” By comparison, the five “Early Stories” are slack and melodramatic, the flat “Fragment of a Novel” a superficial glimpse of (its self-described) “broken-down Hemingway characters.” It’s nice to have the compact literary essays “On Writing” and “Fires” available again, as well as the wonderfully moving “My Father’s Life”—but, as stated, these are available elsewhere.

Still, we probably can’t have too much of Carver’s spare, precisely honed prose in print. One hopes a Collected Stories will appear before long.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-72628-4

Page Count: 285

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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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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