Sometimes heavy-handed, always heavy-hearted.

Novelist Daugherty (The Boy Orator, 1999, etc.) returns with a collection of eight stories about mostly unhappy denizens of “Mama Houston.”

In “Comfort Me With Apples,” a folklorist named George, whose wife and parents have died in a freak traffic accident, becomes entwined in a family of illegal immigrants until the mother snaps and drowns her children. In “Tombstone Television,” George reappears to befriend a homeless man living at the cemetery where George has buried his family. In both stories, as in much of the collection, a middle-class white man confronts his own unhappiness while observing the authentically down-and-out. The narrator of “A Worried Song After Work” is a labor lawyer on a blind date with a perky blond. When he drags her along to a meeting of disgruntled workers, he assumes that she is too materialistic to appreciate the issues he cares about, but she, like most of Daugherty’s women, turns out to be a tough cookie. Romance blossoms even as hope for improving the workers’ condition fades. Even in stories that do not directly concern Houston’s underclass, the city comes across as a corrupt and depressing place peopled by Daugherty’s lonely, vaguely ineffective protagonists. Henry, of “Henry’s Women,” is dumped by his girlfriend because he doesn’t notice she’s had an abortion only to fall in love with a pregnant woman whose husband has left her. In “The Leavings of Panic,” the narrator recalls his mother’s impatience with his father’s passivity as he contemplates stealing a good friend’s wife. While the protagonist of “Bliss” appears on his way to artistic success away from Houston, the story is set in the murky zone of regret in the weeks of packing up before he leaves town—and his wife and child. In the final piece, “Burying the Blues,” Hugh, a junior-college history professor obsessed with black blues, gradually recognizes that truly knowing another culture, or even another individual, is impossible.

Sometimes heavy-handed, always heavy-hearted.

Pub Date: July 15, 2002

ISBN: 0-87074-469-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002




A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004


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

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