No matter the story, Rash grabs you and doesn’t let go.

CHEMISTRY

AND OTHER STORIES

It’s grand to see a writer coming into his own, as Rash does in this punchy story collection, following some impressive novels (The World Made Straight, 2006, etc.).

Once again, we’re in the mountains of North Carolina, where life is hard and the locals age fast. In the extraordinary “Pemberton’s Bride,” set in the early-20th century, Pemberton returns to town with his bride. Waiting for him at the train station is a woman he has impregnated and her father, ready to kill her seducer. Knives flash. Pemberton quickly dispatches the old man; case closed. After all, he owns the lumber company, the only large-scale business in town. The icy, imperious couple dominates the community like royalty, until they overreach with a double murder. This long story, a natural for the big screen, chills to the bone. Some contemporary stories, though not in that league, are also powerful. In “Deep Gap,” a father, helpless against the spread of drugs into country towns, tries desperately to save his son from his habit, and the brutal dealers he can’t pay. “Dangerous Love” features a carnival knife-thrower and his partner; they fall in love. What makes their love dangerous is the intensity of their passion. “The Projectionist’s Wife” is a dramatic coming-of-age story; a 14-year-old boy saves a woman from a questionable tryst and kills his first deer, both within an hour. Violence is seldom far away. A college teacher, responding to a personal ad, is brought up short when the woman tells him her husband is set to kill her once he gets out of prison (“Honesty”). A daredevil teenager, stealing marijuana, gets caught in a bear trap (“Speckled Trout,” the basis for The World Made Straight). A charming exception is “Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes,” in which three old geezers get a new lease on life when they take on a giant sturgeon.

No matter the story, Rash grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-42508-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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