Some of these stories are thin and ineffective, but those that work dig deeply into our innermost, darkest fears.


A collection of stories about the way people are affected by the sometimes-unsettling and even violent things that happen to them or others.

The 13 stories in Laskowski’s second collection (Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, 2012) exude an ominous and haunting atmosphere. The subject matter is always fairly ordinary, deceptively banal, but just below the surface lurk quiet terrors. The first story, “The Witness,” is about a female bystander who sees a car hit a young boy—his body flew onto the street like a “sheet of paper.” Marie’s obsession with the accident and the man who drove the car leads to profound consequences for her marriage. Tension oozes out of many of these stories. A couple keeps sneaking into a man’s apartment in “The Cat-Sitter” to fondle his things and have sex. In one of the best, “There’s Someone Behind You,” a woman who has secretly been seeing a married man hides in his backyard on Halloween night in order to glimpse the man’s wife in the house. Feeling excited and wicked, she quietly calls out the woman’s name, over and over, confident she won’t come out. A woman becomes obsessed with a co-worker’s murderer in “Death Wish.” Couples—mothers and fathers—and their children populate the stories. There’s a supernatural element and plenty of tension in “The Monitor.” Myra and Corey are given a video monitor to observe their baby, a “colicky, fussy little thing.” Some nights a frightened Myra thinks she’s seeing another baby. Turns out the video is coming from a family’s monitor across the street. Then she starts seeing a little boy walking around the room; they have no boy. There are shades of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in this terrific story. Laskowski’s fine workings of tales that go creepy in the night make her a writer to watch.

Some of these stories are thin and ineffective, but those that work dig deeply into our innermost, darkest fears.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-939650-38-2

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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