A long time coming for the first collection of short fiction from a well-established source.



Broughton (Hob’s Daughter, 1984, etc.) returns with a broad range of tales in a variety of styles and emotional landscapes reflecting his vast experience and travel.

Often a simple premise gets things going here, quickly expanding into stories that tell entire histories. In “Ashes,” a death in the family will be a young man’s last nudge toward adulthood, leading him to realize that “the cabin and landscape, in exchange for his pledge of leaving, were giving up secrets to him that he had forgotten.” A woman, in “The Classicist,” stuck with her widowed Greek-scholar father, contemplates both her final youthful indulgences and the pregnancy that has resulted from them. “The Terrorist” heads into dangerous territory with a literary-genre piece complete with guns and bombs, yet always remaining serious in the manner of Graham Greene’s “entertainments.” A brother bails out his sister at the start of “Living the Revolution,” only to trigger family memories devoid of innocence but able to help them all along in the journey to find themselves. And in “The Wars I Missed,” a man’s history reveals his covetousness of others’ loss in the wake of far-away battles from which he’s excused—a safety that turns out to be not so safe: “I had learned that night that somewhere deep in places I will never reach, far beyond any chance of ultimate healing, there is an unforgiving pain.” These are tales that start small both in subject and emotion but then crescendo, gathering a kind of inertia of the heart, until what they address by the end is vaster than the beginning by many orders of magnitude. One gets the sense both of wisdom and experience brought to bear, joined to a sensitive intellect shaped by years of training in novel writing and poetry.

A long time coming for the first collection of short fiction from a well-established source.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-885635-05-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. Press of Colorado

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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