Eight of the forty-seven stories in this welcome volume of Hughes's short fiction have never before been collected, and the rest are from long out-of-print books. The chronological arrangement (the pieces were written between 1919 and 1963) gives us a full appreciation of Hughes's evolution as a man of letters. Three high-school tales not previously collected demonstrate Hughes's youthful social conscience and his early, solid command of his craft. His early protagonists struggle against poverty, leading lives of quiet sorrow. A series of sea stories reflects his own experience as a sailor, all involving trips to the West Coast of Africa, where, variously, sailors fight over a beautiful native girl, a naãve missionary girl commits suicide after a sailor compromises her virtue, and a romantic European is entranced by his African wife. A number of pieces from the '30s concern the black artist's ambivalent relation to his white patrons: In ``The Blues I'm Playing,'' a brilliant pianist defies her condescending sponsor to marry a young doctor; and the bohemians in ``Slave on the Rock'' degrade their black servants while romanticizing the black race. Throughout the Depression, Hughes documented the struggle of blacks simply to survive. In one story, a homeless man hallucinates about breaking into a church and finding Christ himself inside. Hughes's Communist sympathies also surface in a few pieces, as in a tale of racism and red-baiting at the WPA, or the superb record of a failed strike by black actors in ``Trouble with the Angels.'' But many of the stories simply chronicle the vibrancy of Harlem life, the passions of ordinary black people, and the indignities of everyday racism. ``On Friday Morning'' is the heartbreaking tale of an aspiring artist denied her art school scholarship because of her race. Stories that, at their best, provide a remarkable portrait of black America over several crucial decades: an important collection that can only enhance our admiration of a great American writer.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8090-8658-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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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.


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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