Arvid’s is far from an unhappy childhood, but writing within a child’s limited vision, Petterson uses what’s unspoken to...

ASHES IN MY MOUTH, SAND IN MY SHOES

STORIES

Readers of Petterson’s award-winning Out Stealing Horses (2007) will find this translation of the Norwegian author’s first published book, scheduled to appear in conjunction with his latest novel, I Refuse, takes a gentler approach to childhood.

Ten brief stories make up this minimalist coming-of-age tale set in the 1960s. Young Arvid grows up in a working-class family in Veitvet, outside Oslo. The book’s opening line—“Dad had a face that Arvid loved to watch, and at the same time made him nervous”—establishes the primary importance of Arvid’s father in his life. When the local shoe industry collapses and Dad loses his position as a factory foreman, Arvid is too young to understand the financial strain and exhibits an innocent’s brutal scorn at the toothbrushes Dad brings home from his new factory job. But the 6-year-old intuitively senses tensions in the household. When Arvid’s sensitivity to the anxiety causes bad dreams, Dad shows great gentleness. Then Arvid’s grandfather dies, and the boy’s first reaction is excitement that Dad, now the boss of the family, will allow him to use a previously off-limits canoe. But at the funeral, he becomes upset imagining Dad in the coffin. By the time he turns 8, Arvid is grown up enough to face grudgingly that others, like his fat neighbor Bomann, have complicated feelings. Bullied for refusing to acknowledge that people have sex, Arvid is secretly “sad” to face the truth he’s learned from Dad. A slightly older, tougher Arvid plays war games with his friends, taking boyish risks that could end disastrously but don’t, any more than the actual Cuban missile crisis that rivets his attention. Maturing from early obliviousness into a conscious sense of ambivalent responsibility, Arvid finds himself offering Dad the tender care he once received as Dad fights his own demons.

Arvid’s is far from an unhappy childhood, but writing within a child’s limited vision, Petterson uses what’s unspoken to wrench the reader’s heart.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55597-700-9

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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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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