An impressive step forward for a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater...

CORONADO

STORIES

Tough-as-nails crime fiction transcends genre in this first collection of five stories and a play (developed from one of them) from the Boston-area novelist (Sacred, 1997, etc.).

One hopes Clint Eastwood (who directed the Oscar-winning film based on Lehane’s superb Mystic River, 2001) will take a close look at “Running Out of Dog,” a pungent slice of Southern Gothic noir populated by runaway canines, restless Vietnam vets and the alluring women who seduce them into one another’s paths, fateful confrontations, and a savage fulfillment of its narrator’s observation that “when hope comes late to a man, it’s a dangerous thing.” This one is a classic: Robert Stone at his most unrelenting, with nerve-grating additional material contributed by Jim Thompson and dialogue by George V. Higgins. Lehane shows his talent for narrative economy in a brisk tale of revenge for drug-induced manslaughter (“Mushrooms”) and a surprisingly rich account (“Gone Down to Corpus”) of Texas high-school football jocks trashing the elegant homes of their “betters,” their destructive energies propelled by what the story’s narrator calls “something . . . I’m mad at, something I can’t put a name to.” The taut, disturbing “Until Gwen” employs grating, accusatory second-person narration to explore the murderous bonds linking a soulless con man, his hapless son (and sometime accomplice) and Gwen, whose fate drives the story toward its excruciating conclusion. And if all this weren’t sufficient evidence of Lehane’s virtuosity, there’s “Coronado,” which expands “Until Gwen” into a two-act play (premiered in New York in 2005) that reshuffles its aforementioned characters into three doomed couples who enact a murderous and suicidal progression through dynamic action, detailed flashbacks and harrowing fantasy sequences. It’s a knockout performance.

An impressive step forward for a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater accomplishment.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-113967-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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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