An entrancing collection, recommended even for those who generally shy away from short story.

THE LAST ANIMAL

Human predicaments are complemented by the wild natural world in this excellent debut story collection from Chicago-based author Geni.

The characters and events here are unusual and far-reaching, but Geni’s careful craftsmanship renders them immediate and real. Each story is threaded with page-turning, deeply felt tension, yet each has also been planted with a seed of magic in varying stages of growth. In the collection’s award-winning piece, “Captivity,” the narrator works at the Chicago Aquarium, specializing in octopuses, which she feeds in-tank, wetsuit-clad, while haunted by her missing brother. In “Terror Birds,” an ordinary family drama plays out with high stakes on an ostrich farm in the desert. “Isaiah on Sunday” and “In the Spirit Room” explore the loss of parents; “Landscaping” (the seed of magic here growing away from realism into striking lyricism) and “Fire Blight” show heartache from the parents’ sides. Broken families are a theme, and the people in these stories experience the fallout with unflinching awareness. Likewise, Geni is not afraid to make readers sit with an uncomfortable situation or watch characters struggle with difficult decisions. “Dharma at the Gate” follows a teenage girl and her dog as she contemplates a relationship that’s holding her back; readers will ache for her freedom. “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” has an anonymous narrator—the protagonists are bunked together in a camp cabin the summer their counselor disappears. “The Last Animal” and “Silence” center on older characters looking for a kind of closure, and both have a quieter tension. 

An entrancing collection, recommended even for those who generally shy away from short story.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61902-182-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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