Roper (The Trespassers, 1992, etc.) presents a novel-in- stories—set in California and ranging from the 60's to the 90's- -made up of mostly touching takes on the lonely fates of mind- damaged hippies and wayfarers. Protagonist Abel Richards—once a sort of wild man—is now divorced and living in Cuervo, California, a town of some 400 people that's ``always been a place to escape to.'' It was also, briefly, a mecca for beats, hippies, and drug-addled seekers. Here, Richards chronicles their tales and works out his own fate. Some of the untitled chapters are sketchy, others rambling sagas, but generally the interconnectedness of the stories saves them from drowning in their own ennui. Early on, wife Jackie leaves Richards for a screenwriter, and daughter Margaret is caught in the middle when Jackie turns from a boisterous married earth-mother into a ``cadaverous figure,'' an alcoholic cokehead. Richards, staying in the old family homestead, quarrels with younger brother Joel when he returns bedraggled from years in Hawaii and recollects the downfalls of Martin Declan—once a mentor in the marijuana trade but now a sort of hermit who gets shot in the back with a bow-and- arrow before disappearing—and brother-in law Terry, who lived with Abel and Jackie for years before traveling and turning into a junkie. The last couple of pieces concern Richards's return to Europe, where he meets a son from a long-ago fling, gets reinvolved with the boy's mother, and then corresponds via long journal entries with the boy once the mother dies. The book, that is, ends with the possibility of redemption and contact. Though shapeless, this does capture—as if in amber—both the romantic, addle-brained Sixties and its deadly psychic hangovers.

Pub Date: July 22, 1993

ISBN: 0-89919-988-7

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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