Imaginative work that shows how much women deserve better plots.

SENSELESS WOMEN

Being a woman is no walk in the park in this debut collection of intricately plotted, sometimes fabulist stories.

Women suffer, Wallman suggests, whether because they're concerned mothers, jealous lovers, or dieting wives. Sometimes men are the source of this pain, but often women are to blame. In "The Dead Girls Show," dead women (like the Hanged Girl and Arabella, the anorexic) put on a ghastly show where men can come and ogle their emaciated bodies and broken necks. But it's the no-nonsense strippers who see the dead girls as a threat and beat them up. Competition among women is also at the heart of "Senseless Women." A nurse named Miriam becomes obsessed with a patient who speaks incessantly even though she has lost her mind. As their histories merge, it becomes clear that Miriam's fallen prey to jealousy and drifted from her family. Plot twists and aha moments drive many of these pieces, sometimes successfully, as in "The Malanesian," which moves between the story of a runaway teenager and that of an affluent couple and their foreign maid until the two narratives come together with a satisfying pop. In "Only Children," however, a plot swerve cheapens an otherwise shrewd exploration of stepparenting. Indeed, when Wallman hews closer to realism, she shows off her considerable talent for expressing things dangerously thorny and fiercely true. In "Junk Food," which is about nothing more and nothing less than a mother spending the night with her ailing newborn, the protagonist reckons, "She did not wish she was in Italy. She did not unwish the baby. She was caught in the suffering of wanting to wish these things, wanting even to remember them clearly, and running up against a blockage of pain knitted from love and hormones."

Imaginative work that shows how much women deserve better plots.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62534-518-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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