paper 0-8142-5019-X Polansky’s debut volume—of skillful, and skillfully familiar, stories—is winner of Ohio’s Sandstone Prize in Short Fiction. Leading off is “Leg,” which, though included in The Best American Short Stories 1995, may merely anger some in its telling of a religious family man who lets his injured leg go untreated until it needs amputation, all seemingly in order—by nursing this Christ- like scourge—to gain the respect of his sullen teenaged son. Other family dysfunctions occur in “Sleight,” with its pun on sleight/slight, a near-hyper-researched story about a magician whose daughter estranges him; and in the also ambiguously titled “Rein,” in which a man feels both trapped and made guilty by his wife’s clinical depression, a situation that’s little assuaged by a visit from the dashing, handsome horse-breeder who was once her lover, now enviably free. Less ambitiously symbol-structured pieces occur in “Acts,” another father-son tale, this time about athletics and courage; and in the title story, told by a Manhattan cabby who briefly—and with only purest intentions’stalks Miss Thailand around town. Caution is given in “Beard” that stories should never be written about writing stories, though breaking that rule—a 40-year- old man is winner of a fiction contest—results in Polansky’s best and richest piece here, especially in its portrayal of the “nationally known” writer who comes to offer a “master class” to the winners. Less good overall is “Pantalone,” about a Prufrock- like English prof, his own marriage on the rocks, who falls in love with a beautiful student who has a scarred face; his passive inertia (he loses both wife and girl) may be central to the story’s theme, but it gives no pleasure to the reader, as neither does his scarcely believable insensitivity. Conscientiously wrought fiction, always capable in scheme and technique, less often strongly involving.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8142-0818-5

Page Count: 196

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999



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



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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013