Although some stories resonate more loudly than others, ultimately Selecky’s party is worth attending.

THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY

Selecky’s debut collection of 10 short stories contains almost all the right ingredients.

In a group of stories that explore the power of love, friendships, familial relationships and all of the emotions these entanglements elicit, Selecky delves beneath the surface to provide an honest and insightful glimpse into her characters’ lives and situations, which sometimes parallel our own. Often witty and poignant, each story can stand on its own and contains components both familiar and unique: a woman who discovers that her engaged best friend is having an affair as she deals with a drunken ex who’s just shown up at her door and is coping with a disastrous and very funny dinner party; a young girl desperate to break away from her ultrareligious father who ends up making out with a total stranger in the back of a bus as she travels back home; a woman who hopes to conceive with her husband during a weekend getaway only to end up doubting his fidelity and making love with a friend; and a young man who questions his own values and the actions of his wife and her friends when he witnesses a mother’s neglect of her young child. While women may identify more readily with the dynamics of each situation and the characters that inhabit each tale, most readers will appreciate the author’s simple and straightforward writing. A few narratives aren’t as interesting as others, and it takes effort to get through them, but given the strength of the overall collection of stories, this weakness is easy to overlook.

Although some stories resonate more loudly than others, ultimately Selecky’s party is worth attending.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-01142-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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