Point taken, but what might have been entertaining as a newsprint monthly series seems slight in book form.



The novelist’s first story collection holds more socio-cultural than literary interest.

One of Ireland’s most popular and prolific contemporary writers, Doyle (Paula Spencer, 2007, etc.) offers eight stories focused on a single phenomenon—the proliferation of immigrants to his native land and the transformation of what it means to be Irish. Doyle writes in the foreword that in the 1990s he “went to bed in one country and woke up in a different one,” a country inhabited by newcomers from Poland, Nigeria and other places who serve as the protagonists for these stories. He has continued to write short fiction for the weekly Metro Eirann, which bills itself as Ireland’s multicultural newspaper, and where each of these stories first appeared in monthly 800-word installments. While Doyle’s employment of dialogue and vernacular are characteristically colorful, the short fiction lacks the depth of his novels, with some of the characters seeming more like types than fully fleshed. The longest is the title story, a sequel of sorts to Doyle’s The Commitments, with manager Jimmy Rabbitte returning to assemble a United Nations lineup to perform the songs of Woody Guthrie and others. Why? No clue. Another story, “Home to Harlem,” concerns a student of literature who comes to America to research his questionable conjecture that the Harlem Renaissance had a profound influence on 20th-century Irish literature. Why does he think so? He can’t really say, as the story mainly serves to show his confusion over a form that has an African-American category for race/ethnicity but none for African-Irish. As Doyle says of his stories, “Almost all of them have one thing in common. Someone born in Ireland meets someone who has come to live here…. Today, one in every ten people living in Ireland wasn’t born here.”

Point taken, but what might have been entertaining as a newsprint monthly series seems slight in book form.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01845-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2007

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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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