A novelty that occasionally succeeds as literature.



Meditations and stories of contemporary India as reflected through the eyes of a 17-year-old autistic youth.

Mukhopadhyay is widely known for his memoir of autism, The Mind Tree (2003), begun when he was eight. In the introduction here, his mother describes how she trained the young writer from the age of three. The 12 pieces collected here evince his determination to communicate through the written word. The first story, “The Showers,” is perhaps the strongest. Vignettes vividly evoke village life in the aftermath of a cyclone: Rival politicians argue; a young boy who hates buffalos is stuck with the task of caring for the stubborn beasts in an impromptu communal grazing area; a teenage girl disappears after she is raped. “Just a Smile” pays tribute to an act that is difficult for Mukhopadhyay. Several other pieces, including “Impressive People,” “Grey, Apple Green, and White” and “The Broken Mirror,” also elaborate on single concepts, illuminating strange turns of mind. Mukhopadhyay explores these concepts in abstract, repetitive prose that is at times mesmerizing, at times tedious. Stories focusing on character are more effective. “Little Grains of Dust,” for example, follows a tea-seller and sometime thief who has adopted a gypsy disregard for place and sees fixed identities as a form of bondage. Likewise, the title story takes an empathetic look at the adjustment an adolescent boy must make when his father goes to jail for gambling, leaving him to be the sole support of his grandmother and younger brother. “The Calendar” and “Man at the Bus Stop” riff humorously on office life. Mukhopadhyay’s explanatory notes preface each piece. Imagining the days “when Mother won’t be around to take care of me anymore” proved the inspiration for “The Field,” a story that awkwardly takes as its unifying motif a nebulous presence named Emma. The final entry, “The Climb,” chronicles a New Age-y pilgrim’s progress with pallid symbolism that never engages.

A novelty that occasionally succeeds as literature.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2005

ISBN: 1-55970-777-1

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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