A fanciful take on life, love, tragedy, and human connection that draws its strength from insight instead of artifice.

GRAVITY CHANGES

Flying children, lovely light bulbs, and unusually expressive faces are just some of the wonders that populate the world of Powers’ debut short story collection.

While each of Powers' brief tales is a treasure trove of whimsical surrealism, it's his uncompromising and often melancholy view of human nature that holds this collection together. The stories, which range in length from brief vignettes to longer narratives, bring the reader closer to the emotional reality of life by distorting the mundane reality of our world. What do leftover characters do with themselves when their action movie is over and the hero is dead? Can a woman single-handedly shrink the universe? Can a moon be in love with a girl? What is it like to be married to the devil? Each story presents a different twist; sometimes it is magical, like a man who becomes one with his couch, and sometimes it is more dreamlike, like a morbid children’s game. Sometimes the difference between the magic and the dreams is not quite clear. It takes a few pages to find secure footing in this uncanny universe, but Powers’ clean, no-frills prose keeps what could otherwise be a disorienting roller coaster grounded and clear. If some of the stories require a second reading, it's not because Powers strays too far down the rabbit hole but because they're too provocative to release their hold on the reader all at once. And if any of the glimpses into this world, a place wholly different and yet somehow recognizable as our own, are too peculiar to evoke their roots in truth, the next one is never too far away.

A fanciful take on life, love, tragedy, and human connection that draws its strength from insight instead of artifice.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942683-37-7

Page Count: 232

Publisher: BOA Editions

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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.

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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