Modern fiction aficionados will most likely embrace Steinberg’s technique and vision; lovers of traditional short stories...



An unconventional approach to storytelling makes this third compilation of short tales by Steinberg (Hydroplane, 2006, etc.) difficult to navigate.

Utilizing repetitive phrasing and a free-flow writing style paired with violent undertones and psychosexual themes, these 12 interconnected pieces explore a multitude of negative sensations that are emotionally draining. How we cope with guilt, anger and loss or commit actions that damage our own lives and relationships are some of the recurring themes that bind these tales together. In one story, a woman goes hiking with a man she likes, and they are accompanied by his friend, a stranger whom she doesn’t like, and she ends up having a sexual encounter with the stranger. Steinberg challenges our ideals of femininity and masculinity as she writes about a young woman, seething with anger and jealousy, who steals her boyfriend’s car radio and smashes it, only to discover that the act of revenge doesn’t have the satisfying effect she anticipated. When an acquaintance dies in an explosive plane crash in the title story, the narrator struggles with her own complex feelings, including resentment toward her father, who wouldn’t allow her to study abroad. And in "Cowboys," a woman deals with the decision to take her father off life support but doesn’t want to bear the responsibility, and thus the guilt, of making the decision on her own. Terse and angry, introspective and raw, Steinberg’s experimental writing style will not appeal to everyone. Her focus is on the emotion rather than on the character or action; the author hits the reader head-on with candid language and uncomfortable themes, and she does this well.

Modern fiction aficionados will most likely embrace Steinberg’s technique and vision; lovers of traditional short stories may find her writing difficult to follow.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55597-631-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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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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