WHERE I'M CALLING FROM

SELECTED STORIES

Carver's shrewd new publisher here repackages 30 stories—a few with new titles—from his four collections, and includes seven uncollected pieces, one of which has never seen print. This selection spans 25 years and provides the perfect opportunity to assess an acclaimed career. For the most part, Carver's seven new pieces add little to his inflated reputation. The trite imagery, the deliberately stale language, and the unintentional bathos—all the elements of Carver's common-man pose—continue to generate tales of failure and false promise, a neo-proletarian rhetoric of victimization and survival. His male narrators often wallow in self-pity, and their problems usually concern women. In "Boxes," a divorced man's mother—herself a lonely widow—moves nearby, making his life miserable with her constant complaining, though her packing up to move again only makes him feel worse. Another story with a single dominant, hard image—"Menudo"—is about "a middle-aged man involved with his neighbor's wife," a state of affairs that forces him to realize his failures with women: his mother, his ex-wife, his present wife. "Intimacy" elaborates on this theme for, here, the narrator shows up unannounced at his ex-wife's house where the shrew harangues him about the past—a past he's already exploited in his "work." More Roth-like reflections on success underpin "Elephant," in which the narrator complains about all those who rely on him for money—his "greedy" mother, his hapless brother, his former wife, his son in college, his white-trashy daughter with children. While this tiresome tale ends with a sloppily sentimental affirmation, "Whoever Was Using This Bed" finds no such hope for the husband and wife who obsess about "death and annihilation," and their bad health and habits. The only surprise in this volume is the final story—a fictional re-creation of Chekhov's death, based largely on memoirs, that's quite unlike any of Carver's previous work, and may signal a new stage in his development, away from the clichÉs of contemporary rootlessness. Regardless of Carver's actual achievement, his spare and simple style has set the tone for a generation of story writers, so that this. ample volume serves as the best introduction to what's happening in contemporary short fiction.

Pub Date: May 31, 1988

ISBN: 0679722319

Page Count: 548

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1988

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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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