A gripping collection of yarns in which social disadvantages take on monstrous shapes.

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DARK CORNERS

Racism and homophobia are among the eerie phenomena haunting these tense stories.

In this debut collection, Hayslett’s characters, most of them black, brown, and/or queer, have their personal problems complicated by their outsider status, by ominous politics, and by occasional eruptions of madness and the macabre. In “2016,” a black lesbian copes with her sister’s troubled pregnancy, her father’s cancer diagnosis, and an increasingly crazy presidential campaign while a ghostly skull that only she can see gradually materializes over her face when she looks in the mirror. In “Money Men,” an Atlanta prostitute who passes the time watching cable news while servicing her clients becomes obsessed with the Arab Spring revolutions she sees on TV. In the Twilight Zone–ish “Super Rush,” a 35-year-old gay man begins an affair with a 19-year-old version of himself whom he encounters at a bathhouse; in “Denial Twist,” a gay man’s affair with a flamboyant drag queen is derailed by homophobic violence; and in “A Step Toward Evolution,” a Native American gay man who feels slighted by white gay men who use and discard him initiates a germ-warfare campaign. And in the disturbing “Come Clean,” two black children observe the bizarre changes in their mother after she is sexually assaulted by a white man and fear she is turning into a vampire. Hayslett paints this world in matter-of-fact realism that’s trimmed with deadpan humor and knocked only slightly off-kilter by incursions of the paranormal, conveying it all in brisk, evocative, grungily lyrical prose. “When your husband finally tells you he’s fucking Celia Washington, your ears fill with room-tone…it’s the first time in six months he’s not grinning like a two-dollar-idiot, and your vision crisps so sharp you can see every scraggly outline of lint on his jacket, and his breath feels like ten thousand wet pellets splashing your face as he says I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry,” growls the narrator of “Hope It Felt Good” as a wronged wife begins a bizarre metamorphosis. The author keeps the identity politics pervasive yet unobtrusive as his characters fight a twilight struggle against a world bent on erasing their realities.

A gripping collection of yarns in which social disadvantages take on monstrous shapes.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947041-22-6

Page Count: 102

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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