That forcing and a tendency to pile on are the only things preventing the dark vision of this smart, hip, supertalented...

THE FUN PARTS

STORIES

Freaks, misfits and addicts crowd this second collection from Lipsyte (The Ask, 2010, etc.); his stories are beyond mordant.

An older man abandons his dying wife for his girlfriend in "The Worm in Philly." Lipsyte’s characters inhabit a cold, hard world, but Tovah Gold is desperate to fit somewhere, somehow in "The Climber Room." The preschool teacher, still single at 36, wants a baby. Her fantasy of marriage to the school’s richest donor crumbles when the old goat starts out by masturbating. (If you’re wondering about the collection’s title, check your body.) The situation of Mandy, in "Deniers," is even more dire. A recovering addict, she has just extricated herself from a destructive relationship with a fellow addict when she becomes involved with her stalker. Cal, with his violently anti-Semitic past, is hardly an appropriate mate for a nice Jewish girl. That stalker seems tame compared to the prize freak in "The Wisdom of the Doulas." Mitch is an overweight, potty-mouthed “lactation consultant” who assists postpartum mothers. Problem is, Mitch wants some of that mother’s milk for himself. It gets physical between him and the outraged father; violence is a constant in Lipsyte’s world. "The Republic of Empathy" ends with an inoffensive young father being burned to a crisp in a drone attack; yes, folks, drones are coming to an American neighborhood near you. What Gunderson fears, in "The Real-Ass Jumbo," is that the whole world may end. The newly minted prophet gives us about five years, “time enough to sample all the yearning young hippie tang.” This scintillating black comedy ends (surprise) violently. There are times, though, when the violent ending seems willed and gratuitous. The high school coach in "Ode to Oldcorn" is a fervent admirer of the champion shot putter. Was it really necessary for their reunion to end in broken bones?

That forcing and a tendency to pile on are the only things preventing the dark vision of this smart, hip, supertalented writer from being truly memorable.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-29890-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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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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