Throughout Trevor's series of collections of beautifully crafted, acute, and affecting short stories, there has never been that outcropping of self-parody that is apt to afflict the work of prolific practitioners of such a confining art form. Each of Trevor's Fate-shackled characters who loiter into a twilight sadness—or bemused acceptance of Things-As-They-Inexplicably-Are—is a fully realized, breathing being who occupies unique space and time. Here, men and women struggle within the labyrinth of family—with its indelible stains from the past and its present imperatives for predator and prey. In the title story, a grandfather's cruelty is amplified and adapted by a grandson and visited upon a vulnerable girl. The daughter of a suicide in "In Love with Ariadne" lives in the shadow of her father's sin and shame. Then public shame scorches two rural families whose security is community reputation: in "A Husband's Return," family "silence" will deny a scandal, but will also doom compassion and love; an aging couple in "Events at Drimaghleen," whose tragedy was absorbed by respectful and sympathetic neighbors, is victimized by a team of brass-headed journalists to find themselves uprooted, exposed in scandal. Fathers also unwittingly wound children: a young girl is hired out for a hated servant's job while her dear dad gains a longed-for field; and a headmaster's son bears the crushing burden of his family's honor among violent-minded schoolboys. Love, or its souring, is sometimes cruel, too—"unsuitable." A single woman reflects on one brief, long-ago idyll with a married man: "For both of them, the pattern of their lives has formed around a moment in an afternoon." In another tale, a man sent by his estranged wife to discuss future plans with her apparently future husband (who's rather a fathead) turns some screws, boozily enjoying himself in a bar, but at last cannot release his lying, impossible wife—and he doesn't know why. Another fine collection by this Irish author, here centering on the plight of people held fast by the familial network of peculiar tensions that can both hold and strangle.

Pub Date: May 1, 1990

ISBN: 0886194415

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1990

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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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