STRANGE PILGRIMS

STORIES

Of the entire generation of Latin-American Boom writers, Garcia Marquez (The General and His Labyrinth, 1990, etc.) has shied away the most from writing about the expatriate experience he and his peers have so determinedly lived for decades. This book of 12 stories redresses that somewhat forced oddness. A lot is slight here, mere sketchery (Garcia Marquez admits in the preface that a number of the tales are reworkings of journalistic pieces or screenplays): "Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane" recounts a transatlantic flight with a beautiful stranger in the next seat, sound asleep and paying the infatuated narrator no mind; "I Sell My Dreams" is mostly an excuse for a portrait of Pablo Neruda; "Tramontania" pays homage to the madness-making wind of the Costa Brava in the form of a Maupassant-ish anecdote (much here, in fact, is reminiscent of Maupassant: little details that bloom into destinies). But included here are also two masterpieces. "Maria dos Prazeres"—the story of an old whore's mistaken premonition of death—is woven with those fluorescent touches that Garcia Marquez is known for (the interior of a car "smelled of refrigerated medicine") and with a leisure of wonder that, happily, never seems strained. The other classic is "The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow"—as acidic a portrait of French inhumanity as satire can accomplish, but also a wizardly capsule of the strangeness all travelers feel and only sometimes can surmount. Garcia Marquez's generosity more than his effect-making is at deepest play in both- -and they do his career great credit.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-42566-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1993

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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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