Quirky, beautifully crafted short stories.

Almond has an eye for the unconventional and singular. The title story in the collection introduces us to Billy Clamm, who accidentally shows up at a drama course when he was trying to enroll in a tax-preparation course entitled Loopholes Ahoy! But it turns out Billy takes readily to acting, even though the immediate pragmatic effect of this course is to land him a job as a Boston Tea Party reenactor. He also becomes enamored with the actor’s prerogative to change his name, so by the end he reinvents himself as William Aubergine and almost literally rides off into the sunset. In “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched,” analyst Dr. Raymond Oss has a weakness for playing poker—and then gets a referral for Gary “Card” Sharpe, 2003 winner of the World Series of Poker, a patient who’s dealing (pun intended) rather cynically with the psychological detritus of his father. Almond ends the story with a high-stakes game that develops between the reckless doctor and the shrewd professional gambler. “Shotgun Wedding” introduces us to Carrie, who unexpectedly discovers she’s pregnant by long-distance boyfriend/fiancé Brian. Carrie hopes for a glimmer of enthusiasm from Brian, but instead of the smile she wants to imagine him having on hearing the news, all she senses is his panic. Almond saves his creepiest moments for “The Darkness Together,” in which a mother and son experience the innuendoes and depredations of a slick and disturbing companion as they travel by train from Buffalo to Toledo. Their train compartment becomes achingly claustrophobic in the company of this unwelcome stranger. Almond’s stories range from the hilarious to the poignant—and he’s able to strike almost every note in between.  


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9845922-3-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Lookout Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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.


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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