TOUGH, TOUGH TOYS FOR TOUGH, TOUGH BOYS

Slim pickings from London’s wizard of the warped: seven stories (four published previously) and a novella that offer only an occasional glimmer of Self’s former eerie greatness (Great Apes, 1997, etc.), as drug-dealing and hitchhiking scenarios offer little to transcend the purely conventional. A crack dealer named Danny features in both the lead story and the novella, in the first (—The Rock of Crack as Big as the Ritz—) as a no-nonsense businessman mining a seam of crack he’s found in his basement and using his addict brother as his runner. The wacky appeal of that story disappears in its sequel, “The Nonce Prize,” which turns the tables: Danny needs the fix while his brother calls the shots. Then a frame-up puts Danny in prison for a grisly crime he didn—t commit—the torture and murder of a six-year-old boy. Cleaner and wiser, Danny places all his hopes in a newfound passion for writing, thinking that winning a prisoners” writing competition will be his salvation. Similarly inconsequential is the title story: a hard-driving, part-time shrink puts the pedal to the metal from the northern Scottish coast to London, blasting the CD player, popping uppers, and slopping single malt from the get-go, stopping only for a desultory hitchhiker—a Scottish alkie for whom he has only contempt but whose brain he picks like the professional he is. Only in pieces like “Flytopia,” in which an understanding is reached between a freelance indexer and his house full of bugs, and to a lesser degree in “A Story for Europe,” in which an angelic British two-year-old starts spouting business German, mystifying his doting parents, do the weird trademark touches emerge and satisfy. Not an utter disappointment, but too close.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8021-1644-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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