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REPTILE HOUSE

McLean stages yearning and stasis with poignancy and wit.

Characters struggle to control slivers of their fates in the nine stories of McLean’s debut.

McLean’s protagonists are stuck. Carl of “Reptile House” doesn’t love his wife or his newborn child. Lilibeth of “Cold Snap” is literally frozen as her town experiences record-low temperatures. On the heels of a divorce, she reads self-improvement books and attempts to fix up her home, all while actively denying the dire situation: “Don’t believe this empty town,” she reminds herself. “This coldest cold. This Death of the World.” In “No Name Creek” we meet Ben, cast in the shadow of his older brother, Boak. McLean has a knack for stunning sentences that resonate with her characters’ circumstances. While peeing “twin arcs” next to a tree, Ben hears Boak tease him and looks up at the mountains. Ben notes, “The peaks jabbed at the sky and the sky just sat there and took it.” The third-person narrators frequently zoom out, locating the present moment within a cosmic frame. The effect is tragicomic; we witness the immense futility of characters’ lives. When Lilibeth washes her hair, for instance, we follow the water “down her forehead to sink to drain through pipes to tank to leach field, then down, down through pebbles and rocks in layers, between faults toward magma, only to steam up again, spit out someday, maybe some geyser, some national park with buffalo romping and children. Anyway, her hair was clean.” McLean incorporates organizational structures in a few stories: a list of rules in “For Swimmers” and excerpts from handbooks and checklists in “Blue Nevus.” These structures clutter the narrative slightly, taking away from the prose, which shines on its own.

McLean stages yearning and stasis with poignancy and wit.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938160-65-3

Page Count: 216

Publisher: BOA Editions

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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THE COMPLETE STORIES

The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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RUNAWAY

STORIES

In a word: magnificent.

Retrospect and resolution, neither fully comprehended nor ultimately satisfying: such are the territories the masterful Munro explores in her tenth collection.

Each of its eight long tales in the Canadian author’s latest gathering (after Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, 2001, etc.) bears a one-word title, and all together embrace a multiplicity of reactions to the facts of aging, changing, remembering, regretting, and confronting one’s mortality. Three pieces focus on Juliet Henderson, a student and sometime teacher of classical culture, who waits years (in “Chance”) before rediscovering romantic happiness with the middle-aged man with whom she had shared an unusual experience during a long train journey. In “Soon,” Juliet and her baby daughter Penelope visit Juliet’s aging parents, and she learns how her unconventional life has impacted on theirs. Then, in “Silence,” a much older Juliet comes sorrowfully to terms with the emptiness in her that had forever alienated Penelope, “now living the life of a prosperous, practical matron” in a world far from her mother’s. Generational and familial incompatibility also figure crucially in “Passion,” the story (somewhat initially reminiscent of Forster’s Howards End) of a rural girl’s transformative relationship with her boyfriend’s cultured, “perfect” family—and her realization that their imperfections adumbrate her own compromised future. Further complexities—and borderline believable coincidences and recognitions—make mixed successes of “Trespasses,” in which a young girl’s unease about her impulsive parents is shown to stem from a secret long kept from her, and “Tricks,” an excruciatingly sad account of a lonely girl’s happenstance relationship with the immigrant clockmaker she meets while attending a Shakespeare festival, the promise she tries and helplessly fails to keep, and the damaging misunderstanding that, she ruefully reasons, “Shakespeare should have prepared her.” Then there are the masterpieces: the title story’s wrenching portrayal of an emotionally abused young wife’s inability to leave her laconic husband; and the brilliant novella “Powers,” which spans years and lives, a truncated female friendship that might have offered sustenance and salvation, and contains acute, revelatory discriminations between how women and men experience and perceive “reality.”

In a word: magnificent.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4281-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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