A clever but uneven story collection that reads a bit like a present-day Replacements concert: you never know from page to...

WELCOME THIEVES

STORIES

Sad sacks, troubadours, and other beautiful losers populate this debut collection of short stories by YA novelist Beaudoin (Wise Young Fool, 2013, etc.).

About half the tales in Beaudoin’s quiver have some real grit, like Springsteen or Bob Seger songs written about the travails of Gen X–ers back in the golden days of flannel. That vibe is better than it sounds but it’s too often derailed by postmodern sarcasm and juvenile wit. The first two stories are pretty typical Midwestern Americana. In “Nick in Nine (9) Movements,” we follow a guy who thinks he’s going to grow up to be Slash (and doesn’t). In “The Rescues,” we pretty much meet the same Everyman, here finding his humanity in helping people fix their beater cars. Things take a darker turn in “Hey Monkey Chow,” mostly about a guy who has a near-miss sexual encounter with his adopted sister. “It’s weird how almost everyone does the worst thing, every time,” Beaudoin writes. “Gives in to their essential natures without thought or complaint. Our little brains suckered in by the first shiny thing. And then, when we have a chance not to be, a real and obvious chance to prove we’re actually half-human, still fuck it up.” In these and other tales, there’s also a perplexing and persistent immaturity that probably works well in the author’s novels but less so here. Only in “You Too Can Graduate in Three Years with a Degree in Contextual Semiotics” do we see a real portrayal of adulthood, and it ultimately finds its protagonist pining for the one that got away. Just to show he still has some tricks up his sleeve, Beaudoin slips in a mickey with “Base Omega Has Twelve Dictates,” a really funny satire of teen dystopian fiction.

A clever but uneven story collection that reads a bit like a present-day Replacements concert: you never know from page to page if you’re going to get the melancholy poet or the drunken joker.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-457-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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