Like Banks’s many fine novels (Cloudsplitter, 1997, etc.), these short works are generally realistic in style and subject matter, with an occasional fable-inflected exception like “The Fish.” About two-thirds of the 31 tales appeared in such previous books as Searching for Survivors (1975), whose title story makes nice use of cars and Henry Hudson’s voyages as metaphors, and Success Stories (1986), including the characteristically somber yet tender “Queen for a Day,” about a working-class New Hampshire family whose alcoholic father has just left at the behest of his fed-up wife. The nine previously uncollected tales are recent works with demonstrable thematic links to past efforts. Among those, “The Moor” tells a gently melancholy story of a middle-aged man unexpectedly confronted with the 80-year-old woman who was (probably) his first lover; “Lobster Nights” chronicles shattered dreams and subsequent violence. Banks’s lovely “By Way of an Introduction” muses on the meaning of stories as revealed by those his parents told, concluding that they are both appeals for love and prayers to “an angel on the roof” who is seldom listening.
One of our best and most ambitious novelists reminds us with this collection just how good his short fiction can be.