The natural world is intense throughout, but all the people here are much of a piece, so alike in their lonely stillness as...

Three intensely atmospheric and melancholy novellas of the West, by short-fiction writer Parvin (The Loneliest Road in America, 1997), in which three people probe the edges of their former lives, with varying degrees of success.

The opening story, “Betty Hutton,” concerns a small-time crook named Gibbs, a forger trying to jumpstart his life after prison, who steals his girlfriend's money and an old Chrysler to take him from Jersey far into the Montana mountains, pursuing the visions of his last cellmate. What Gibbs finds are an ice-fishing old man, who gives him a line and some breathing space, then, in a nearly abandoned mining town, a wild poker game in a bar, which goes on for time without end while a blizzard rages outside. When it's over, Gibbs is looking at things differently. The title piece offers a possibility of romance: a laid-up logger, Darby, left behind while his buddies go off on the last great old-growth bonanza, connects with a lonely woman whose faded beauty still dazzles him speechless. They meet for lunch weekly, and in the innocence of the meetings a tentative spark is struck. Darby, despite strong links to where he is, is ready to start fresh with her and her disabled kid, but tragedy turns all his dreams to dust. Finally, “Menno's Granddaughter” tells of Lindsay, headed east by train after years living in the West, who decides to visit the remote Wyoming town where her ex-husband killed himself after he left her for another woman. The husband was a well-known writer, and as she travels Lindsay starts an awkward letter to him; by the time a snowstorm strands her, feverish, in the town she sought, she's decided to make contact with the other woman—and out of their mutual pain comes a healing.

The natural world is intense throughout, but all the people here are much of a piece, so alike in their lonely stillness as to be interchangeable.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-04977-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000



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



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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