A lesser work than such fully achieved recent fictions as The Years with Laura Diaz and The Eagle’s Throne, but of real...

HAPPY FAMILIES

STORIES

Sixteen cleverly varied short stories, separated by mostly free-verse interludes, form a broad image of modern Mexico in the latest fiction from that country’s most prominent writer (The Eagle’s Throne, 2006, etc.).

As its title allusion to Tolstoy promises, many of these pieces are concerned with relations among parents and children, spouses and siblings. “A Family Like Any Other” explores the stunted lives, graced only by sustaining illusions of accomplishment and empowerment, of a department-store salesman forced into early retirement, his romantic dreamer wife (a former bolero singer) and their career-challenged, embittered stay-at-home adult children. There follows a plaintive “Chorus of the Street Gossips,” channeling the plea of an unborn child not to be born into poverty and misery. Thus it goes, as Fuentes examines the ordeals endured by a crime impresario (“The Mariachi’s Mother”) who cannot divert her son from following her path; a powerful military commander whose own sons work for powers he helped overthrow (“The Armed Family”); a pair of male lovers whose contented union reflects the social changes of several decades (“The Gay Divorcée”); and a sexually adventurous woman who confesses to her present lover her enslavement by a brutal egotist (“The Secret Marriage,” perhaps intended as an allegory of Mexico’s ongoing vulnerability to opportunists and tyrants). The stories’ range is both impressive and somewhat predictable, as we keep meeting characters whose passions appear to confirm generic clichés about Latinos’ volatile emotions and ingenuous submission to the demands of a religion that counsels endless patience. Still, even when plots seem unoriginal, Fuentes earns our attention with vivid dialogue and detail.

A lesser work than such fully achieved recent fictions as The Years with Laura Diaz and The Eagle’s Throne, but of real interest as a Latin American little brother to John Dos Passos’s U.S.A., the book that may have inspired it.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6688-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more