Carver's spare voice remains distinctive in this new collection of stories (Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, 1977, was his first). Scary in how quickly they unfold, the stories prove to contain within their small dimensions a frequent radicalism of emotion, a back-against-the-wall-ness that's startling. The speech-like titles—"Why Don't You Dance?," "Tell the Women We're Going," "I Could See the Smallest Things," "One More Thing"—act as false reassurances, dishes from under which Carver yanks the tablecloth. Domestic situations—mostly of leaving, of disappointing—predominate, narrated often in the form of one character telling another a story of self-compromise which neither of them can wholly bear. The very best stories here—"The Bath" (a dying child, the eerie spaces he clears) and "After the Denim" (an elderly couple and a hippie couple at bingo night, with the utter impossibility of ever lining lives up parallel)—both suggest, nearly unforgettably, that the most dangerous thing that any of us own is the past. "What people won't do!" comments an innocent, if vacuous, lover in the title story—and you sense Carver in the background, knowing all too well what people will do. Yet for all the true lugubrious anarchy we're so economically reminded of here, Carver's fiction may be less original than it seems. Dependent on a Jack Benny-ish deadpan, on the ironic situation that bends itself in two and then can't be re-straightened, Carver is essentially writing John O'Hara stories—but with all the water wrung out. The dialogue is faultlessly non-sequitur; the characters are often simultaneously released and terse (thanks to liquor); violence is daily and unremarkable. These are stories, in other words, strictly about mores, not morals—and if looked at in the long literary view, they can seem thin, sneakily sentimental, all tone. Still, as artifacts of American culture right this minute, they are mightily impressive and, at their best, invested with a fiercely humane pathos.

Pub Date: April 20, 1981

ISBN: 0679723056

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1981

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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.


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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